New Castle News

October 20, 2012

Online gambling parlors must close by Monday

Tom Davidson
Sharon Herald

NEW CASTLE — This may be the last weekend to “bet” at Internet sweepstakes parlors in Mercer County.

Mercer County District Attorney Robert G. Kochems has put the operators of these establishments in the county on notice that come next week, they will need to close up shop to abide by the law.

“I will direct law enforcement authorities to begin prosecuting violations of the law beginning Oct. 22,” Kochems wrote in a letter he sent to operators. “This gives you time to give notice to your employees and to see if a new stay of the law is agreed to.”

The businesses have been operating for about a year in Pennsylvania.

They’re either a potentially profitable “game” that offers a prize like the popular Monopoly game at McDonald’s or they’re an attempt to skirt the state’s gambling laws.

U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania sided with the latter argument when Judge Robert D. Mariani denied a motion for a restraining order and preliminary injunction filed by an operator of the machines in Luzerne County.

 That ruling lets stand a law Gov. Tom Corbett signed June 30 to close the “legal loophole” by which the parlors operated, state Rep. Mark Longietti of Hermitage said at the time.

“It was a loophole that needed closing,” Longietti said in July.

The sweepstakes operate by selling customers phone cards which enter them into a finite sweepstakes pool. People either can redeem the cards immediately to find out if they’ve “won” or “lost,” or use the cards to purchase Internet time and play casino-like games to eventually reveal if they’ve “won” or “lost.”

They’re popular here, said Miracle Petrino, who managers one parlor in Sharon and another in Hermitage.

“It’s a shame, because people love it,” Petrino said. “I’m hoping that another appeal will be filed and they’ll accept it and we’ll stay open.”

Otherwise, they’ll be closed by this time next week, she said, indicating she won’t fight it by testing local police  enforcement of the law.