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Slot Machines in the Mall

In strip malls across the country, from Florida to Texas to Utah to Massachusetts, a battle is being waged between local law enforcement officers and the providers of a new type of suburban entertainment. The owners of the businesses call their storefront parlors “Internet sweepstakes cafes.” But they seem more like pop-up casinos. Inside the popular and lucrative businesses, customers spend cash playing games that mimic the look and feel of traditional slot machines. Cops call it illegal gambling. Supporters—and their high-powered attorneys—call it legal sweepstakes.

Despite myriad police raids and the occasional prosecution, the game rooms continue to spread. While lawmakers struggle to pass legislation designed to ban the sweepstakes cafes, well-funded lobbyists push to legalize them. In the meantime, the market grows. In less than a decade, the Internet sweepstakes cafe business has already ballooned into a multibillion-dollar industry. The Cyber City Internet Cafe in Winter Park, Fla., (pictured above) offers slots like Wheel O’ Treasure, Prize Is Right, and Cobra Cash, and a fax machine.
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