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Pseudo-gambling stalled by Planning Board

Date: 1/10/2011

Jan. 10, 2011

By Chris Maza

Reminder Assistant Editor

EAST LONGMEADOW — The Planning Board in February will address the issue of a proposed Internet caf on Main Street, which would include the use of computer-based gambling games.

Robyn Macdonald, director of the Planning Board, said the board, along with law enforcement and the town's legal counsel were all "very skeptical" of the proposed caf and its legality.

Macdonald said the planning board is in a holding pattern regarding a decision, pending discussions with the office of the Attorney General. The issue is scheduled to be re-addressed at the Feb. 1 meeting of the Planning Board at 6 p.m.

There is a discrepancy in reports about the group that presented the proposal to the Planning Board and its involvement in other similar establishments.

According to Macdonald, the group of Gerald and Jennifer Burritt and Sharon Keough already own two such establishments in Chicopee and two in Springfield, including the 777 Cyber Center on Cooley Street.

Jennifer Burritt declined to comment, other than to tell Reminder Publications that she has no involvement with the 777 Cyber Center or any other internet caf , other than the one being considered by the Planning Board.

Upon visiting the 777 Cyber Center on 296 Cooley St. in The Five Town Plaza, Reminder Publications learned that patrons buy internet time and as a bonus, receive that dollar amount in sweepstakes credits that can be used to play gambling applications on the computers, such as slot machine simulations, poker and blackjack.

For example, according to the unidentified man and woman working at the 777 Cyber Center, $10 will buy a patron 50 minutes of internet usage, plus $10 in game credits.

Patrons are given a username and password for the games Should a patron win a game, they can collect cash winnings by giving the worker at the front desk a their username.

The caf also offers free coffee and snacks.

The male worker explained that while many people have not heard of such establishments in Massachusetts, in states such as Ohio, North Carolina and Florida, they are "on every corner."

However, according to media reports found through a search of the Web, Internet sweepstakes cafes have been recently raided in Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Texas, California, Alabama and Utah for suspicion of illegal gambling.

A listing for the 777 Cyber Center on the "local news and views" section of the Western Massachusetts Web site describes the establishment as an "internet gaming center" and also says, "We welcome players over the age of 16."

East Longmeadow Police Chief Doug Mellis declined to comment on the legality of these kinds of establishments or whether it will have an affect on crime before press time, saying only that he was waiting to discuss the matter further with town counsel.

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