Gamblers lost a chance to win a big jackpot at Internet sweepstakes parlors in Pennsylvania when Gov. Tom Corbett signed legislation that deems them illegal under the state’s gaming laws.
“It was a loophole in the law that needed closing,” state Rep. Mark Longietti said.
Longietti, Hermitage, D-7th District, co-sponsored the law, House Bill 1893 that passed in the House unanimously last year.
The Senate took up the legislation June 29 and unanimously voted to send it to the House with minor changes that the House passed June 30 by a 192-5 vote, with Longietti, Rep. Michele Brooks, Jamestown, R-17th District, and Rep. Dick Stevenson, Grove City, R-8th District, supporting the measure.
The governor signed it June 30 and it was effective immediately, Longietti said.
It’s “too soon to know” the full ramifications of the law and how it will be enforced, Mercer County District Attorney Robert G. Kochems said.
It is on the agenda, along with other new legislation, during next week’s state district attorney’s association conference, Kochems said.
The sweepstakes operated by selling customers phone cards which entered them into a finite sweepstakes pool. People could either redeem the cards immediately to find out if they “won” or “lost” or use the cards to purchase Internet time and play casino-like games to determine if they “won” or “lost.”
The law should have come as no surprise to those operating the machines, Longietti said.
“It certainly was reported that this was a loophole and that efforts were underway to close the loophole,” he said.
There were three of the parlors operating in Sharon and two in Hermitage that were closed this week.
Signs posted at the “Spin to Win” adjacent to Shenango Valley Mall in Hermitage and “Lucky’$” on Euclid Avenue in Sharon said they were “temporarily closed” because of the law.
“We will re-open soon,” the signs say.
The parlors were locked Friday and attempts to contact Miracle Petrino, who managed two of the locations, were unsuccessful.
In Greenville, former Mayor Dick Miller said he plans to shutter his Main Street business “Up In Smoke - RYO” which was dealt back-to-back legal blows in the last week, when a federal transportation bill was signed into law that effectively closes “roll-your-own” cigarette businesses and then Corbett signed the sweepstakes bill just two months after Miller added the sweepstakes machines to the business.
The laws mean Miller has no choice but to close.
“We’re going to close at the close of business tomorrow (Saturday),” he said.
Until then people can buy “bottled water and energy drinks” at the store during Greenville’s Heritage Days festival, he said.
“But that isn’t going to support two people (his employees) that long,” he said.
“It was an expensive lesson to prove that small businesses serve at the pleasure of large businesses,” Miller said.
He blamed both laws on powerful lobbies by Big Tobacco and the gambling industry and said it proves a small business doesn’t have a voice in government.
“This stuff with Big Tobacco and the casinos kind of proves it,” Miller said.
Before they closed, the businesses helped generate some revenue for the City of Sharon, its manager Scott Andrejchak said.
The city has a mechanical device tax that it levied on the Sharon cafes a couple months ago.
The tax is $50 per device -- there were 167 operating in the city and about $7,000 had been collected so far, Andrejchak said.
“I think everybody knew its days were numbered,” Andrejchak said of the sweepstakes wave.
They started popping up in Mercer County last year and local law enforcement officials said then they were hamstrung to do anything about it.
Closing the loophole might be a “net benefit” to the area, Andrejchak said.
Local bingos had been hurt by the cafes, Andrejchak said.
“I think it’s going to help local charitable organizations (that offer bingo),” he said.