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The Rebirth of One Eyed Jacks: The Impact and Legality of Sweepstakes Cafes in the USA
October 12, 2011 7:05 AM   Subscribe

Internet Sweepstakes Cafes have opened in strip malls and retail areas throughout United States of America in the 2000s to become a $10 to $15 billion industry.

These private enterprises provide the opportunity for patrons to play what its operators argue are 'slot machine-mimicking games' with predetermined outcomes is not gambling, and also offers internet access. Opposition argues that "These businesses are a bad idea for their communities." (see first link)
The legality, regulation, and societal impacts of these places are being studied and debated by state and local legislatures, law enforcement agencies including North [pdf] Carolina, Ohio, and Florida, and legal (pdf) scholars across the United States of America.
posted by fizzix (111 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
"This is the most fun we've had in 20 years," says Joy, who is 78 and retired. "At our age, we can't hike. You can't pay him to go to the movies. This gives us a reason to get up in the morning."

Reading this made it a little harder for me to get up in the morning.
posted by liminalrampaste at 7:08 AM on October 12, 2011 [20 favorites]


Woo hoo, another opportunity for soulless assholes to take our money!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:11 AM on October 12, 2011


Woo too, another opportunity for stupid people to give their money to soulless assholes!
posted by three blind mice at 7:15 AM on October 12, 2011 [8 favorites]


Either it gets regulated or eventually every store in the country will be doing it. It's like a new designer drug that's still technically legal. Maybe we as a country *want* internet sweepstakes everywhere, it remains to be seen.
posted by stbalbach at 7:18 AM on October 12, 2011


Woo too, another opportunity for stupid people to give their money to soulless assholes!

We're talking about taxes, right?
posted by jsavimbi at 7:18 AM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is just such a sad, sad thing.
posted by odinsdream at 7:20 AM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Maybe the government should learn from this and base the tax system on some kind of lottery. If you dangle the one in a billion chance to win tax amnesty for life plus like a grand a month, people will be dying to pay their taxes plus more. WIN WIN!!
posted by spicynuts at 7:21 AM on October 12, 2011 [12 favorites]


There are quite a few here in Tallahassee and more all the time. They sprout up VERY quickly. Never gone in one as slot-machines are a boring way to gamble in my opinion but I have zero problems with them and think they should be allowed.

Any societal problems are the choice of adults. In Florida it shouldn't matter whether they gamble via the lottery, bingo, dog tracks, card games, etc. All those are legal.

As long as there is some sort of oversight to ensure a reasonable percentage of payoffs why not.

The idea that poor people will spend money on gambling instead of food may be a valid concern, but there are all sorts of things that people "waste" their money on.
posted by 2manyusernames at 7:22 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


At first I was like "cash rich business? $3M a year?"

Then I was like "oh, yeah, I have some ethics."

Stupid ethics.
posted by bpm140 at 7:23 AM on October 12, 2011 [11 favorites]


Customers are easy to find. Mecham says sweepstakes cafes cater primarily to two demographics: the old and the poor. "Lower-income customers are coming in because they're bad at math," he says. "It's like the lottery. The lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math. They're coming in to try and catch a big break."

We know this, but it's "nice" to hear one of the main guys in the biz say it.

If an Allied Veteran customer wants to, he can sit down at a computer, click one button, and have the outcome of his sweepstakes entries revealed all at once. Instead, most customers choose to play the slot machine-mimicking games that reveal the entries piecemeal because they find it more entertaining.

So much for the theory I espoused in a recent thread on the subject, wondering what sort of payoff would be required to have people play something that is barely a game. Answer: none (or at least: no extra payoff).
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:25 AM on October 12, 2011


Back in my home state there was a gas station / junk yard / diner / grocery store that had a few of these machines in an illegal back-room parlor. The locals all knew about it and it had regulars and I suspect even the local constabulary knew it was there. It was a major source of revenue for the store, which happened to be the only store for a 20 mile radius. It seemed pretty harmless and I don't think anyone ever went broke playing there. But that's the way these things should be. On the DL in mom-and-pop shops where you gotta know the secret handshake and be real subtle-like, not institutionalized chains of internet cafes. There's no romance in that.
posted by jeffamaphone at 7:26 AM on October 12, 2011


Woo too, another opportunity for stupid naive people to give their money to soulless assholes!

-slight edit-
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:28 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]




I've seen a bunch of these in Cleveland. Always in aging strip malls with several vacant storefronts.
posted by box at 7:33 AM on October 12, 2011


My mom is like this. She goes to actual casinos to play penny slots as well as internet based slots when shes not at the casio. She goes before work at like 5am, during lunch, and after work, he entire social life revolves around the casino. Shes not stupid by any stretch and I don't begrudge her spending her own money on slots. With all the comps she gets she may actually be up. She recently told me she was 60 before she had any fun, so whatever, play them slots mom.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:33 AM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


Durn Bronzefist: "The lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math. "


This statement always bothered me. Sure it is valid for those few people who play crazy amounts but for most people it is a few dollars. If they weren't spent on lottery tickets they'd be spent on other impulse items or similar unneeded products.

It may be a tiny chance, but someone does win. If it brings them entertainment then it is not a tax on people who are bad at math.

The 10th Regiment of Foot: "Woo too, another opportunity for stupid naive people to give their money to soulless assholes!
"

Yes, because spending money on entertainment where there is a small chance to win money is naive but spending money on movies, dvd rentals, amusement parks, cable, video games, etc is wise. Hell people spend money on virtual farming, don't begrudge people from enjoying a bit of entertainment.
posted by 2manyusernames at 7:35 AM on October 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


Any societal problems are the choice of adults. In Florida it shouldn't matter whether they gamble via the lottery, bingo, dog tracks, card games, etc. All those are legal.

This isn't gambling, there is no "chance"; all of the winnings are predetermined, making it very much unlike bingo, lottery, dog tracks, card games, etc.

It's a very clever way to squeeze cash from vulnerable, low-income populations, nothing more. I'm at a loss as to how to effectively regulate them because of how finely they exploit human cognitive behaviour, legality, and the 'aw-shucks' common sense notion of adult free will/choice that tends to lead people to support them blindly.
posted by odinsdream at 7:38 AM on October 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


(Meanwhile, my 80-year-old grandmother just dropped $3,000 to get her fur coat fixed up so I think I'd actually rather her have this as a hobby.)
posted by griphus at 7:39 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Going from the few gamblers I've known:
Their lives suck, and "games" like this give them that tiny background spark that maybe one day something good will happen, and maybe then life won't suck. They're not stupid, they know what they're doing, they just want to have something to hope for so that they can go to sleep thinking "wow, maybe I'll win tomorrow. Wouldn't that be nice?"

I don't know about you, but I'll be damned if I'm going to take away someone's tiny background spark.
posted by aramaic at 7:41 AM on October 12, 2011


My lips curl with disgust reading about this but you know it will always exist. There will always be wolves because there will always be sheep. And, there will always be dorks who stand on rocks with clipboards observing the wolves and the sheep and moan about how sad it all is.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:43 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I liked how the Carolina link acurately ended with this:
Other stories you might enjoy:

No related stories
posted by Edogy at 7:44 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure this would be any better if they were playing World of Warcraft.
posted by empath at 7:44 AM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


don't begrudge people from enjoying a bit of entertainment.

That was me and not The 10th Regiment of Foot. Hey I've got nothing against casinos and gambling. It's nothing for me, but if others want to spend their money this way. Satan Bless 'Em.

More casinos - they pay property taxes - more lotteries - the money goes right into state coffers - means the less tax the rest of us have to pay. If people can have fun while being fleeced for corporate and state gain, all the much better.
.
posted by three blind mice at 7:45 AM on October 12, 2011


These should be run by the state, IMO. It's not like it takes anything but a lack of a moral compass to run one of these deals. At least then some of the money could be redirected to programs that help the communities that are wasting their money this way, instead of being used to make assholes rich.
posted by empath at 7:48 AM on October 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


Sure it is valid for those few people who play crazy amounts but for most people it is a few dollars.

Its applicability has nothing to do with the amount wagered but an understanding of the odds. We're not terribly good with very big and very small numbers.

I'm not sure this would be any better if they were playing World of Warcraft.

I have less trouble with entertainment for entertainment's sake than with gambling with a tissue-thin veneer of entertainment. I say this having watched a flatmate justify his addiction endlessly with... well probably everything I'm going to see in this thread.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:49 AM on October 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


I don't know about you, but I'll be damned if I'm going to take away someone's tiny background spark.

Again, this is not gambling. It's identical to the McDonald's Monopoly sweepstakes. The pull-off prizes, locations, and amounts are all known by McDonald's. The winners are exactly known and predetermined.

Rather than assuming that gamblers lives suck and the gambling brings brightness, perhaps it's the other way around, at least for compulsive gamblers.
posted by odinsdream at 7:49 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


For a brief period about maybe eight years ago, I worked at a deli in center city Philadelphia. They had video poker & slots there, "for entertainment purposes only", meaning that the actual machines didn't pay out. You had to show your winning screen to the guy behind the register and he'd give you your winnings.

The deli was located beneath a methadone clinic, and folks would get dosed, stop by the deli counter to buy a cup of rice pudding, and sit their asses down to lose a shit ton of money. People would sit and play all goddamn day, every day, from 7 a.m. till I left shortly after the lunch hour. I've seen a lot of sad existences in my day, a lot of hopeless souls that trudge through a life with no future in sight and no plans to look for one, and these people depressed me more than pretty much any others.
posted by item at 7:50 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Again, this is not gambling. It's identical to the McDonald's Monopoly sweepstakes.

That's great if we're talking about that particular legislative definition of gambling, but let's not pretend it's the only possible one.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:51 AM on October 12, 2011


I'm not talking about legislation. I'm talking about the very broad, common definition, that you're playing a game with odds.

Gambling: Two people place a bet, then each pull a card from a shuffled deck. Highest card wins.

Not Gambling: Two people place a bet. Person A wins. They each pull a card from a shuffled deck.
posted by odinsdream at 7:53 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


A life lived with regular rice pudding cannot be 100% bad.
posted by elizardbits at 7:54 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]




They had video poker & slots there, "for entertainment purposes only", meaning that the actual machines didn't pay out. You had to show your winning screen to the guy behind the register and he'd give you your winnings.

Those old video machines was my first thought too. But I'm sure it is squeaky clean. Totally above board.... I mean It's a high-margin, cash-rich business.!
posted by R. Mutt at 8:00 AM on October 12, 2011


Again, this is not gambling. It's identical to the McDonald's Monopoly sweepstakes. The pull-off prizes, locations, and amounts are all known by McDonald's. The winners are exactly known and predetermined.


Except at McDonalds you can get a free game piece just for the asking.
posted by Gungho at 8:00 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not Gambling: Two people place a bet. Person A wins. They each pull a card from a shuffled deck.

That's no version of the McDonald's Monopoly game I've ever seen.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:00 AM on October 12, 2011


Except at McDonalds you can get a free game piece just for the asking.

The same is technically true of the sweepstakes places, as mentioned in the article I linked.
posted by odinsdream at 8:06 AM on October 12, 2011


That's no version of the McDonald's Monopoly game I've ever seen.

I'm not sure what you're arguing - that McDonald's doesn't know exactly how many cups are winners, and what exactly the prizes are?
posted by odinsdream at 8:07 AM on October 12, 2011


I understand the legal distinction between gambling and sweepstakes, but I don't understand what impact this distinction has on the players' lives.
posted by roll truck roll at 8:09 AM on October 12, 2011


I'm not sure what you're arguing - that McDonald's doesn't know exactly how many cups are winners, and what exactly the prizes are?

The players are still playing money for a chance to win more money, and the odds still favor the house. If the pit bosses at the Bellagio knew exactly when each slot machine was going to pay off, and how much, would that mean the slot jockeys weren't gambling?

Gotta say: I don't get that.
posted by steambadger at 8:11 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: dorks who stand on rocks with clipboards, observing.
posted by jeffamaphone at 8:12 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: It's a high-margin, cash-rich business!
posted by Mister Fabulous at 8:13 AM on October 12, 2011


Functionally, it means that they aren't regulated as gambling, but are interacted with by players as if it were gambling. This allows them to open in areas that normally wouldn't be accessible to gambling facilities.
posted by odinsdream at 8:13 AM on October 12, 2011


odinsdream, this comment is what confuses me (and seems to have confused other people too). You seemed to be saying that this distinction makes the sweepstakes less valid as a form of entertainment than gambling. I'm not seeing that.
posted by roll truck roll at 8:18 AM on October 12, 2011


Yeah, okay. It's a way evading gambling laws by fiddling around the edges of the legal definition, much in the same way that designer drug makers used to avoid drug laws by changing the chemical composition of their product slightly. Legally, that's an important point; but it doesn't really have any bearing on the ethics or social consequences of the business.
posted by steambadger at 8:18 AM on October 12, 2011


Going from the few gamblers I've known:
Their lives suck, and "games" like this give them that tiny background spark that maybe one day something good will happen, and maybe then life won't suck.


My dad was a big gambler. If anyone does not like that word in this context, then I can only say that he enjoyed the excitement of voluntary chance. And I can tell you, his life sucked because he blew his money on scratch tickets, lottery tickets, horses, and back room card games. The choices of an adult to maintain his happiness should be a secondary concern to maintaining the security of his dependents.
posted by hanoixan at 8:22 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Speaking of stupid or naive people giving money to assholes - what about Starbucks?
posted by 2manyusernames at 8:25 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe we can use this to finance political campaigns somehow.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:27 AM on October 12, 2011


You seemed to be saying that this distinction makes the sweepstakes less valid as a form of entertainment than gambling. I'm not seeing that.

Neither am I. Sorry for the confusion.

I disagree with the premise that sweepstakes games should be lauded because of the "spark" they bring to people's lives. That doesn't mean it's an "invalid" form of entertainment. All kinds of con games can be "fun".
posted by odinsdream at 8:28 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's identical to the McDonald's Monopoly sweepstakes.

Uhh, no. When the Monopoly isn't running, I pay $X and get a hamburger, fries and a soda. When it is, I pay $X and get a hamburger, fries, a soda, and some number of game pieces that might give me more stuff.

This is very different. You're paying money for a chance, not being given chances as a teaser to convince you to buy something you might have bought anyway.
posted by eriko at 8:28 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Find this sad or disgusting? Okay, suggest alternatives. Not for you, but for the people in the story.

Try and get into their minds, their lives. What do they like? What can they do, and what can't they do? What might they like more than this?

Got an idea? Okay, now, is it a business that'll make money, or is it something that needs money? Or maybe you could organize people to manage it in their off-work time?

Go!
posted by benito.strauss at 8:31 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


There must me a way to combine this post with the post on optimism and the one on the 53% who see themselves as on the way to becoming the 1%. And maybe the AskMe about Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:35 AM on October 12, 2011


This is very different. You're paying money for a chance, not being given chances as a teaser to convince you to buy something you might have bought anyway.

I'm starting to feel like a broken record, but it is indeed exactly what the sweepstakes business model is. Please correct me if I'm wrong. You can read all about it in this legal filing made in support of the industry which explains the process very clearly. A snippet:
12. In both Systems, upon request and with no purchase necessary, participants can obtain free sweepstakes entries. Free entries are not treated any differently than entries accompanying a purchase.
13. In both Systems, whether through a request for free entries or through a qualifying purchase, a sweepstakes participant is given a player account number associated with the sweepstakes transaction, which will enable the sweepstakes participant to reveal or open sweepstakes entries. In both Systems, entries can be opened only at a computer terminal. (exhibit B, page 3)
posted by odinsdream at 8:36 AM on October 12, 2011


Okay, suggest alternatives. Not for you, but for the people in the story.

A plausible, workable real-world alternative to a fantasy in which instant wealth, social and political power are potentially available to anyone, regardless of socioeconomic background?

We used to have an alternative to that called "The American Dream" where the idea was roughly the same, only without miraculous, mathematically dubious luck being a necessary precondition to a real chance at winning.

I guess Sweepstakes Cafes are as close to a Utopian vision of the future as modern American capitalism will bear--it's a shabby replacement for the kind of false hope that used to sustain us, but I guess it's a more direct and honest way of achieving the same ends.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:38 AM on October 12, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've been reliably informed that I have already won the internets. I don't see how there can be any left for anyone else.
posted by Wolfdog at 8:40 AM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure what you're arguing - that McDonald's doesn't know exactly how many cups are winners, and what exactly the prizes are?

I'm not sure why you think this renders participation not gambling. Do participants know when they step up to the counter whether or not the piece they receive will win the game for them? If not, then "odds" are still relevant, which is probably why McDonald's says things like:

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO PLAY/WIN A PRIZE. INTERNET ACCESS & VALID EMAIL MAY BE REQUIRED. In-Store open to (50) US & DC, Guam, Saipan & Canada residents, 9/27/11 to 10/24/11, or while supplies last; Online Game is time seeded, begins 9/27/11 at 12:00:00 a.m. ET to 11:59:59 p.m. ET 11/5/11; not avail. in Guam & Saipan. Must be 13 yrs. or older to play Online. Void where prohibited. Games subject to Official Rules avail. at participating McDonald’s restaurants and www.PlayatMcD.com; see for restrictions, ARVs, odds, no purchase play, Prizes/claim details. *Odds based on Game Pieces (each has 2 Game Stamps); mostly food Prizes.

(emphasis in original)

Look. I'm a determinist, so to me it doesn't matter if you're using pre-printed cards or a roulette wheel. You're either gonna win, or you aren't. But you, the participant, don't know which it is, and based on what information is available (numbers on the wheel, pieces printed and likelihood of attaning all needed to take a particular prize, or any prize) you calculate (for some loose value of "calculate") odds. There are (intentionally) confounding factors here -- that you're buying a burger and the pieces simply come with, or you can ask for pieces without purchase, but these don't at all affect the fact that you are participating in what is to you a game of chance. That McDonalds knows it will only give away 10 cars and 1 house having absolutely nothing to do with it. I'm not sure how I can even generously accept your statement that "the winners are all known and predetermined."

The interesting bit here is that people are choosing to remain ignorant of their win/loss for some period of time after being able to find out.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:41 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gambling isn't a rational endeavour and so is not always a rational choice. And even if it was 100% rational, what seems to be a good idea at one time may not be a good idea later, or with more information available. Except that the money's already gone... as is the dopamine.

An interesting study (experiment 1): subjects given tryptophan (a serotonin precursor) were more likely to "chase" gambling losses down the rabbit hole. I wonder if casinos are spiking their drinks and buffets with amino acids that encourage this kind of behaviour (in addition to protein heavy foods that normally contain lots of tryptophan).
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:42 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


More from the filing:
22. Because the Systems are computerized sweepstakes drawings, for which no purchase is necessary to participate, no payment of any kind is required to play the video games.
23. The video games that are part of Plaintiffs' promotional sweepstakes are easily differentiated from illegal video gaming devices like video poker. First of all, an illegal video gaming machine is driven by a random number generator with an infinite set of outcomes. Secondly, with an illegal video gaming device, the user must stake something of value to get some outcome from the game. (emphasis mine
The clever part, as I mentioned earlier, is that these games are marketed as if they were gambling, and as if there were a random chance of winning, and as if you have to stake something to have a chance to win. That's part of the business model.
posted by odinsdream at 8:43 AM on October 12, 2011


Ah -- protein heavy foods include, of course... peanuts, sunflower seeds and chocolate. Classic casino snacks.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:43 AM on October 12, 2011


Okay, suggest alternatives. Not for you, but for the people in the story.

There actually is some research in this direction among folks who are interested in policies that encourage low income people to build assets. They call it prize-linked savings:

Prize Linked Savings
Consumer Demand for Prize-Linked Savings: A Preliminary Analysis
posted by yarrow at 8:47 AM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


This reminds me of the gambling halls we have in my state.
The rules stipulate that you may not sell only Lottery products, so we have countless "Delis" whose cellophane-wrapped sandwich and cigarette sales serve as a fig leaf so everyone involved can pretend it's not a casino.

These "sweepstakes" places are the same thing. It's gambling. Everyone involved knows it's gambling, but because of semantics, they can pretend it's not.
posted by madajb at 8:48 AM on October 12, 2011


The one thing that I think might cause problems is the ability to "wager" different stakes on the various games. Even if the results are predetermined, the amount received by the player varies on the number of stakes wagered. This would be like McDonald's having the monopoly pieces pay different amounts depending on how many you presented at once.
posted by Hactar at 8:48 AM on October 12, 2011


odins, #22 is just another version of the pyramid scheme rap I got hit with a few years back: "No, no, no -- in a pyramid scheme, you put money in and so long as you get other people to, you get money out. This is a product you're buying. You can sell it or gift it or keep it!"

Or the $300 keychain on kijiji that "comes with" a pair of tickets to see The Eagles.

I'm not saying it's not clever, but come on. For someone saying you're following a commonsense not legislative definition of gambling, you're going to split hairs over random number generators? I guess using a numbers table would render it non-gambling?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:50 AM on October 12, 2011


The one nice thing about it all, as mentioned in the article, is that these people are so fucking greedy that they will cheat on their taxes and hopefully get caught.

And yet if the state can do it, why not ... ? It's not much different than the lottery, and likely pays out a higher percentage.

This is very different. You're paying money for a chance, not being given chances as a teaser to convince you to buy something you might have bought anyway.

Technically, I think you might be wrong here. The relevant article bit:

"... visitors to Allied Veterans aren't buying a game of chance, Mathis and Bass explained at the hearing. They are buying Internet time. As at McDonald's, the sweepstakes entries are chipped in for free.

The value of those entries, Mathis and Bass argued, is determined at the point of purchase. If an Allied Veteran customer wants to, he can sit down at a computer, click one button, and have the outcome of his sweepstakes entries revealed all at once. Instead, most customers choose to play the slot machine-mimicking games that reveal the entries piecemeal because they find it more entertaining. What transpires is the illusion of gambling, not the real thing. And like the Monopoly promotion at McDonald's, the pool of prizes is finite and predetermined. Thus it is a sweepstakes. Thus it is legal."

IANAL, but these places seem to be on very solid legal ground. They even have ways to get around "no purchase necessary."

This would be like McDonald's having the monopoly pieces pay different amounts depending on how many you presented at once.

McDonald's gives a Monopoly piece for every item ordered, I think. These places are doing the same thing, with the commodity simplified to a single item ("internet time"). But yeah, I'm not sure how one person can spend $X on "internet time" for a (average) payout of $.9X, and another person can spend $2X for $1.8X either...
posted by mrgrimm at 9:06 AM on October 12, 2011


What I'm most interested in is the double role these places serve as Internet cafes. Their clientele are precisely the demographic least served by broadband Internet. The idea of an alliance with such a slimy business might seem unthinkable, but the unthinkable realm is often where shit finally gets done.

I've been reading quite a bit about digital divide issues lately. In short, BTOP was a great start, but it's just the tip of the iceberg. And the "non-adoption tax" (higher cost of life for people without Internet access) keeps going up.

If I worked for a Community Technology Center in one of these communities, I'd be trying to figure out a way to plant Internet trainers and classes in the cafes. And if I worked for the local government, I'd be trying to figure out a way to require the cafes to allow and/or subsidize those classes and trainers in order to stay in business.
posted by roll truck roll at 9:12 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


It would be much better to limit by legislation the maximum vig allowed than to make the games illegal.

The games provide something -- entertainment, hope, distraction, whatever -- that people are willing to pay for. I don't see anything wrong with that. If 78-year-old Joy wants to sit at a machine all morning to lose an average of $5, I don't see how that's worse than charging her $5 to see a movie.

It's also strange to see people bringing anecdotes about problem gamblers they know as if that's a good reason to outlaw gambling. I doubt they'd support alcohol prohibition despite vast numbers of problem drinkers.
posted by callmejay at 9:15 AM on October 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I say this having watched a flatmate justify his addiction endlessly with... well probably everything I'm going to see in this thread.

And really, this evidence (not anecdotal, but epidemiological) is the rationale why this sort of activity (imo) can and should be regulated.

If you've ever watched the life of a gambler go down the drain, it's heartbreaking.

They should allow these things to continue but force them to plaster GA posters all over the place.

Speaking of stupid or naive people giving money to assholes - what about Starbucks?

I loled. Urban Outfitters ... American Apparel ... Target, Best Buy ...

luckily, all my merchandise is hand-made by the same woman who churns my butter.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:17 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wonder if casinos are spiking their drinks and buffets with amino acids that encourage this kind of behaviour (in addition to protein heavy foods that normally contain lots of tryptophan).

Do steaks count? Because Vegas is notorious for offering gamblers various forms of free steak (and of course, free drinks). (Ah ha--yep steak's the ticket.)
posted by saulgoodman at 9:19 AM on October 12, 2011


McDonald's Monopoly and other similar promotional games of chance are 'gambling lite'. The chance of winning is a small incentive to buy their product. Someone might go to McDonald's instead of Burger King when the promotion is on, but people aren't buying 20 large fries a day to win big.

On the other hand, slot machines are pure gambling. The only purpose of putting in money and seeing the results is to see if you win more money. This seems to combine slot machines with buying time at an internet cafe. The article said that when the author was there, he saw only one person actually using the internet. That says to me that the 'sweepstakes' angle is a very thin veneer over slot machines.
posted by demiurge at 9:20 AM on October 12, 2011


The rules stipulate that you may not sell only Lottery products, so we have countless "Delis" whose cellophane-wrapped sandwich and cigarette sales serve as a fig leaf so everyone involved can pretend it's not a casino.

There's a similar rule, at least in the UK, regarding sales of pornographic materials in specialist outlets. Several times as a naive young girl I wandered into what looked like 2nd hand bookstores in Manchester only to realise that they had three shelves of dog-eared 70s paperbacks and everything else was somewhat more racy. Though at least some of them had curtains over the 'offending' content (again, this may be part of doing the minimum necessary to legally qualify as a retail store and not an establishment requiring a specialist licence)
posted by mippy at 9:26 AM on October 12, 2011


McDonald's is different - you can request a ticket without purchase purely because otherwise they would be running a lottery (entry to the game would be contingent on making a purchase - doesn't matter if the purchase is a paper ticket or a hamburger). For years in the UK any prize draw had to carry the 'no purchase necessary' stipulation to avoid this, though I think it may only now be compulsory in Northern Irish jurisdiction.
posted by mippy at 9:29 AM on October 12, 2011


It's boggles my mind that judges have upheld this. If sweepstakes are just purchase of a product + gambling, then how far will it go? Will I be able to buy a twelve-cent plastic trinket for $50,000, and get a "free" entry into a high-stakes poker competition? (Of course they'd offer some tiny chance of winning for free, just like the Internet sweepstakes gives you ten cents worth of credits for free.)

This is a perfect example of adhering to the letter, but not the spirit, of the law.
posted by miyabo at 9:38 AM on October 12, 2011


McDonald's is different - you can request a ticket without purchase purely because otherwise they would be running a lottery (entry to the game would be contingent on making a purchase - doesn't matter if the purchase is a paper ticket or a hamburger). For years in the UK any prize draw had to carry the 'no purchase necessary' stipulation to avoid this, though I think it may only now be compulsory in Northern Irish jurisdiction.

I believe McDonald's is required to give ONE free entry per person, for which you'll need to fill out a form and mail it in to receive your entry by mail.

These places (if required by law) do the same thing by offering 100 free credits to new users. It's in TFA:

"In a nod to a 'no-purchase necessary' rule in state sweepstakes promotions, first-time patrons are given an extra 100 free sweepstakes entries."
posted by mrgrimm at 9:43 AM on October 12, 2011


Can someone explain to me why we outlaw gambling? I've never really understood that part.

I'll agree it's a stupid waste of money, but so? People waste their money in other stupid ways that are perfectly legal (everything from Pokemon cards, to cigarettes, to buying gold in World of Warcraft, to internet porn, to Monster Cables, to romance novels, etc).

The whole "tax on the poor" line is BS though. Taxes provide benefits. Gambling tends not to be beneficial. You tax poor people and (hopefully) they get stuff provided by tax dollars. Poor people squander their money gambling and they don't get anything but an enjoyable waste of time.

Speaking for myself, I've never really understood the appeal of gambling, and I worked in a (quasi-legal) slot machine place on the midnight to eight AM shift for several months. I'm also sure gambling isn't really a great thing, there is an addictive aspect and I'm sure people spend money they really ought to be keeping for the rent and whatnot.

But, like prostitution, drugs (other, of course, than the completely harmless and non-addictive stuff like alcohol and tobacco), and so forth, it's a victimless crime and I can't really see any point in making such things illegal. Regulating them, absolutely. Setting up rehab places, sure. But criminalizing it? That doesn't do anything but enrich criminals.
posted by sotonohito at 9:44 AM on October 12, 2011


Next up: I wasn't paying for sex; I was paying for "her time".
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:44 AM on October 12, 2011


Find this sad or disgusting? Okay, suggest alternatives. Not for you, but for the people in the story.

Try and get into their minds, their lives. What do they like? What can they do, and what can't they do? What might they like more than this?

Got an idea? Okay, now, is it a business that'll make money, or is it something that needs money? Or maybe you could organize people to manage it in their off-work time?

Go!
posted by benito.strauss at 11:31 AM


You seem to assume that there was nothing to do before this new way of parting fools from their money came along. I'm sure you can name a few of them if you concentrate.

GO! GO! GO!
posted by longsleeves at 9:50 AM on October 12, 2011


But yeah, I'm not sure how one person can spend $X on "internet time" for a (average) payout of $.9X, and another person can spend $2X for $1.8X either...

"Show me the predetermined results at double speed."
posted by Meatbomb at 9:57 AM on October 12, 2011


This is kind of a derail, but I thought you guys might get a kick out of it. My Dad used to work for the state Attorney General's office. He used to come home with mind-games relating to what is and is not gambling. Here's my favorite.

Imagine a machine with four stacks of coupons, arranged such that you can only see the coupon on top of each pile. You pay a quarter and press the button corresponding to the coupon you want.

Here's the interesting part: 99% of the coupons are of the same value as the coupons you get in the newspaper (like a dollar off a value meal at a fast-food restaurant, for example). The other 1% were for larger prizes or sums of money. Is it gambling?

The manufacturer of the machine said that it's not gambling, as you know exactly what you're paying for. You're just buying a coupon. The counterargument is that you're not buying a coupon; you're betting that the next coupon will be worth your two quarters.

If I remember correctly, the AG's office preliminarily decided that it's not gambling. But I've never actually seen the machine anywhere.

posted by roll truck roll at 9:58 AM on October 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm not saying it's not clever, but come on. For someone saying you're following a commonsense not legislative definition of gambling, you're going to split hairs over random number generators? I guess using a numbers table would render it non-gambling?

Continued argument over the definition is the reason I brought up the filing, made, again, by the people who sell the system which describes at length why it's not gambling.

I personally think such a long definition isn't required, and I'm personally satisfied by approaching it with common sense and coming to the conclusion that it's not gambling (even if participants may feel that they're gambling). Others weren't, so I linked to the court filing.

What's clever is the business model which relies on the exact confusion we're dealing with in this thread.
posted by odinsdream at 10:01 AM on October 12, 2011


The "confusion" isn't implicated in the clever bit at all. Whether "gambling" occurs under whatever definition you prefer, it happens when the customer steps up and buys their time/predetermined (but unknown) outcome.

The clever bit is indeed the business model which then turns extended ignorance into a game with flashy lights, but that's no part of the gambling/sweepstakes distinction. You yourself have been distracted by the red herring here.

If I buy a scratch ticket, and the vendor says "Hey, how about you only scratch off one square of the panel every time a kid runs past here", he may have made discovery into a "game", but the "gambling" part has already happened (again, depending on your definition).
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:09 AM on October 12, 2011


sotonhito: The short answer, I'd bet, is that when we tried getting along as a society without banning it, that didn't work out so well for us. The costs to society of tolerating gambling may actually be more than it is worthwhile trying to offset through tax revenue or other measures.

At least, that would be a safer assumption than just assuming, oh, well, I guess there was never any good reason for the status quo, as we often do much too hastily know.

Now, that said, it's possible, if not even likely there were other less publicly-minded motives for bans on gambling--marijuana, famously, owes its outlaw status more to the business interests of William Randolph Hearst than to any public interest motives.

But it may have simply been that people in the past had such bad experiences living in societies in which widespread gambling was tolerated that they found the unrestricted practice to be more trouble than it was worth.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:15 AM on October 12, 2011


Their lives suck, and "games" like this give them that tiny background spark that maybe one day something good will happen, and maybe then life won't suck. They're not stupid, they know what they're doing, they just want to have something to hope for so that they can go to sleep thinking "wow, maybe I'll win tomorrow. Wouldn't that be nice?"
Ugh. I think a little gambling doesn't hurt but there ought to be restrictions on how much someone can bet based on their income. Maybe 10% of their disposable income or something.

Part of the problem is that while buying a 300 million lottery might give you something like that a lot of these lotteries don't have those kinds of payouts. You pay $1 and get back $1.50, and over time you really don't crap.
These should be run by the state, IMO. It's not like it takes anything but a lack of a moral compass to run one of these deals. At least then some of the money could be redirected to programs that help the communities that are wasting their money this way, instead of being used to make assholes rich.
In Iowa, the state lottery created these 'electronic lottery ticket' kiosks that you could put in gas stations. They showed up everywhere. They were basically slot machines. People flipped out and they were gone in a few months. So there may be some kind of moral compass in there somewhere.
Except at McDonalds you can get a free game piece just for the asking.
Same is true at these sweepstakes caffees.
I'm not sure what you're arguing - that McDonald's doesn't know exactly how many cups are winners, and what exactly the prizes are?
I'm not sure what you're trying to argue: McD's doesn't know where the winning cups and french fry containers are. They know the number of winners but they don't know who will actually win. So I'm not really sure what the point is. You're gambling because you don't know whether or not you will win. When you play poker, you're still gambling, even thought you know one person will take the pot. Or if you bet on horses, you know some horse is going to win.
Can someone explain to me why we outlaw gambling? I've never really understood that part.

I'll agree it's a stupid waste of money, but so? People waste their money in other stupid ways that are perfectly legal (everything from Pokemon cards, to cigarettes, to buying gold in World of Warcraft, to internet porn, to Monster Cables, to romance novels, etc).
Maybe because it's an actual social problem if the countries poor pour all their money into pockets of unscrupulous casino operators?
posted by delmoi at 10:16 AM on October 12, 2011


You yourself have been distracted by the red herring here.

The entire reason these places exist is because of the distinction between whether it's gambling or not. How is that a distraction?

If it is gambling, then it's not legal as practiced.
posted by odinsdream at 10:18 AM on October 12, 2011


If it is gambling, then it's not legal as practiced.

The fake-slot-machine part of it really doesn't matter at all though. What matters is that they're selling a product (Internet access) and including a sweepstakes with it, just like McDonalds sells a hamburger and includes a sweepstakes with it. You could pass a law that the expectation value of a sweepstakes has to be (eg) less than 10% of the cost of the product, or somesuch. Until that happens the distinction is purely qualitative.

Can someone explain to me why we outlaw gambling? I've never really understood that part.

It helps that gambling laws are actually pretty effective at stopping problem gambling. I'm sure there are plenty of back-alley poker games all over the country, but they're small enough and underground enough that people don't gamble away their life savings the way they do at casinos in Vegas. Drug laws, by contrast, are not actually all that effective at stopping problem drug use.
posted by miyabo at 10:23 AM on October 12, 2011



Again, this is not gambling. It's identical to the McDonald's Monopoly sweepstakes. The pull-off prizes, locations, and amounts are all known by McDonald's. The winners are exactly known and predetermined.


No it isn't even remotely like Mcdonald's Monopoly promotion. That's the analogy drawn by the operators of these cafe's.

McDonald's is in the business of selling food. The almost always sell food without a sweepstakes promotion. What do most people win during the promotion? More McDonald's products.

What do cafes' always sell? According to the article, almost no one uses them jsut to acces the internet. So their primary business is the sweepstakes. And what do people win playing the sweepstakes? Money. Not more internet access time, but money.

This is exactly like scratch-off lottery tickets, except computerized. Scratch off tickets are not only regulated by the state, but the states are the only ones who operate scratch off lotteries. The state gets the money and it goes into a general fund (usually).

This is a monumentally bad idea, especially during the worst recession since the depression. This is the most efficient way to take the marginally poor and render them absolutely poor. If I see these pop up in my town, I'm going to skip the lobbying, and town hall meetings and go straight to arson.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:33 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


One more thing: The McDonald's sweepstakes doesn't actually require you to buy anything. Like all of these kinds of promotions, they are obligated to make tickets available for free by mail upon request. Are these internet cafes going to allow people to play for free but potentially win real money?
posted by Pastabagel at 10:34 AM on October 12, 2011


Are these internet cafes going to allow people to play for free but potentially win real money?

They give you ten cents worth of credits for free, one-time-only. (Just as McDonalds has to give you tickets for free, but will only give you one, and requires writing a letter to some obscure address and waiting three months. )
posted by miyabo at 10:36 AM on October 12, 2011


@saulgoodman Perhaps there is a reason, but I'm inclined to suspect it's more likely rooted in religion rather than any real social problems.

In support of that contention I observe that Nevada does not have a significantly higher crime rate or any other indicator of social problems than states where gambling is illegal.

Also, there is a very significant difference between "legal" and "unrestricted". Tobacco is legal, but it is not available in an unrestricted or unregulated way.
posted by sotonohito at 10:39 AM on October 12, 2011


In support of that contention I observe that Nevada does not have a significantly higher crime rate or any other indicator of social problems than states where gambling is illegal.
Well, in Nevada gambling brings in a lot of money from the rest of the country because of it's gambling operations. But that said, there is a lot of poverty in Nevada. The unemployment rate right now is 13.4%
posted by delmoi at 10:43 AM on October 12, 2011


Also, there is a very significant difference between "legal" and "unrestricted". Tobacco is legal, but it is not available in an unrestricted or unregulated way.

I agree. I think all would agree that this is one of those areas where the law hasn't caught up yet. The question is how the law should keep up. As I hinted at above, I think that there are ways in which the law could catch up that would exploit these cafes for public good.
posted by roll truck roll at 10:44 AM on October 12, 2011


what do people win playing the sweepstakes? Money. Not more internet access time, but money.

That shouldn't even matter in a principled attempt to define gambling, though it may have a great effect in reality on how well the scheme preys on the desperate. (I say this related to someone whose biggest family win of any kind was a tidy pile of money from the McDonald's Monopoly game some years back)

Around here I don't think many people notice the McDonald's monopoly promotion anymore, but I do see my coworkers suddenly switch to Tim's when they can "roll up the rim to win" (perhaps an SUV!). Does the fact that they get a coffee with their ticket cup mean that it's not gambling? Again, I think we can talk about a principled definition or we can recite various legislative takes on the issue, but I see no reason to adhere to the latter. Let's not forget how much legislation is the product of compromise.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:51 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ok, did I miss this? Can I get my free sweepstakes entries, then check them on any internet-ready device? Or am I locked into buying minutes just to see if I've won?
posted by punchee at 10:51 AM on October 12, 2011


Magnetic bracelets, penis enlarging pills, psychic readings, homeopathic medicine, audiophile equipment, reiki healing, etc, etc.
Trying to stop con artists from convincing people to voluntarily give away their money is as futile as the war on drugs. The only answer is to educate the naive and unaware and then leave them to make their own choices.
posted by rocket88 at 11:14 AM on October 12, 2011


jsavimbi: We're talking about taxes, right?

Har har. The difference is that government isn't by definition composed solely of soulless assholes, and many of the people you paint with that broad brush provide essential services for us all.

three blind mice: More casinos - they pay property taxes - more lotteries - the money goes right into state coffers - means the less tax the rest of us have to pay. If people can have fun while being fleeced for corporate and state gain, all the much better.

These is a problem with this, and that is, teaching people how not to be fleeced is a higher ethic than funding government.

odinsdream:
Durn Bronzefist: "The lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math. "
This statement always bothered me. Sure it is valid for those few people who play crazy amounts but for most people it is a few dollars. If they weren't spent on lottery tickets they'd be spent on other impulse items or similar unneeded products.


1. Not all of those people spend their money on impulse items. Some, in fact, misguidedly spend money they could use on important things in a misguided belief they have a good chance of winning.
2. Even the most useless impulse item is at least something.
posted by JHarris at 11:21 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


One more thing: The McDonald's sweepstakes doesn't actually require you to buy anything. Like all of these kinds of promotions, they are obligated to make tickets available for free by mail upon request. Are these internet cafes going to allow people to play for free but potentially win real money?

Once again, it helps to read the article.

Can I get my free sweepstakes entries, then check them on any internet-ready device? Or am I locked into buying minutes just to see if I've won?

No, you have to check them at the physical location. That's the whole point.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:23 AM on October 12, 2011


There's a similar rule, at least in the UK, regarding sales of pornographic materials in specialist outlets. Several times as a naive young girl I wandered into what looked like 2nd hand bookstores in Manchester only to realise that they had three shelves of dog-eared 70s paperbacks and everything else was somewhat more racy.

That's excellent! It's amazing the lengths people will go to get around the spirit of the law.
posted by madajb at 11:24 AM on October 12, 2011


Trying to stop con artists from convincing people to voluntarily give away their money is as futile as the war on drugs. The only answer is to educate the naive and unaware and then leave them to make their own choices.

We take the potential for addiction into account in designing policies all the time. It's what was supposed to happen in drug policy, and it's entirely compatible with a view to letting people freely choose their own poisons, in that it's an attempt to preserve that right to freely choose. When you've got products like the VLT, pared down and streamlined to the most basic, maximally addictive form, I'm not sure I see a principled counter from government equating to you not being able to align your shakras or what have you.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:27 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


"In a nod to a 'no-purchase necessary' rule in state sweepstakes promotions, first-time patrons are given an extra 100 free sweepstakes entries."

No, you have to check them at the physical location. That's the whole point.


Sorry if I'm being obtuse, here, but let me get this straight: in return for renting internet time, customers are given sweepstakes entries. They can also get free sweepstakes entries, without any obligation to purchase internet time... but they can't check the entries to see if they've won, unless they purchase internet time. So all the sweepstakes entries are free; but they're completely worthless unless you purchase the vender's product.

I think I'm missing something, here.
posted by steambadger at 11:40 AM on October 12, 2011


The McDonald's sweepstakes doesn't actually require you to buy anything. Like all of these kinds of promotions, they are obligated to make tickets available for free by mail upon request. Are these internet cafes going to allow people to play for free but potentially win real money?

Once again, it helps to read the article.


The article doesn't really show any evidence that they are actually providing a free way to enter the sweepstakes. It says you pay $20 for 100 minutes of Internet time and 2000 sweepstakes entries, and that if it's your first time you get 100 extra sweepstakes entries. The "predetermined outcome" thing might be able to get past some badly worded laws about "games of chance", but a sweepstakes scheme that doesn't involve skill and requires an entry fee to be paid is pretty clearly illegal. If this is legal anywhere it's definitely on a technical level along the lines of pachinko machines that pay out seemingly worthless prizes that can be exchanged at a store across the street for money.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:44 AM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


It says you pay $20 for 100 minutes of Internet time and 2000 sweepstakes entries, and that if it's your first time you get 100 extra sweepstakes entries.

Yeah, that wording is kind of ambiguous. I don't really have time to look right now, but I wonder if the actual rules are posted online somewhere.

I wonder if it's like a scratcher ticket, in that there's some kind of code that quickly lets an employee know whether a ticket is a winner or not, without going through the rigamarole of the actual "game." If so, it would be easy to tell a non-paying player whether he won without giving him free computer time.
posted by roll truck roll at 12:19 PM on October 12, 2011


if it's your first time you get 100 extra sweepstakes

I assumed these went with free internet time. Otherwise, as noted, it wouldn't work.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:25 PM on October 12, 2011


I would like to know how many people defend these sweepstakes cafes and also support Ocupy WallStreet.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:25 PM on October 12, 2011


I like to watch Hardcore Pawn because it's set in Detroit, my hometown. But it breaks my heart to see so many people pawning things like their wedding rings to get money to go downtown to the casino. If you've got some disposable cash you want to use for recreation, then fine, play the slots. But don't rely on the slot machines as a way to pay your rent and car note and go into further debt to do so. Any venture that preys on the elderly, the naive, the gullible, the hopeless, etc, really really grinds my gears. But I guess that's what it takes to get rich owning one of these types of businesses - no conscience whatsoever.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:31 PM on October 12, 2011


I would like to know how many people defend these sweepstakes cafes and also support Ocupy WallStreet.

(What parts of Occupy Wall Street? It's hardly a unified movement. I'm most for the promotion of socialism/communism all around, so sure, I'm for it, I think, unless they start getting violent against people.)

So here's one, I guess. The law (as in the reddit jailbait issue) seems pretty clear. The slippery slope implications are dangerous.

I'm not defending these people who exploit other people, but I am defending their right to do so by the existing laws.

If you want to prevent this sort of morally dubious business, restrict it specifically by law. As Durn Bronzefist noted, if you want to stop these Internet Sweepstakes, you also probably have to take a look at IRL sweepstakes, e.g. the Tim Horton's and McDonald's examples.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:34 PM on October 12, 2011


I would like to know how many people defend these sweepstakes cafes and also support Occupy WallStreet.

wtf does one have to do with the other?
posted by empath at 12:40 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


or yeah, that. i think the connection is that both systems (high finance and low-level scammers) exploit the poor?
posted by mrgrimm at 12:44 PM on October 12, 2011


I'm not defending these people who exploit other people, but I am defending their right to do so by the existing laws.

Well at best this is a legal gray area. And the whole business model is clearly set up in a way that counts on the system either being illegal now or being illegal sometime shortly in the future. The software developers who actually create the systems want to keep their hands clean, so they don't actually run the cafes or even help the people who do run the cafes set things up, and make their money by just taking a cut of the profits. So another group of people who don't want to actually run these places make money by installing the systems and training people. Leaving people who are already scammers or running some sort of existing illegal operation to actually set up and run the cafe itself. All of the people above the cafe level hire lawyers to try to either fight the inevitable lawsuits or figure out the correct time to shut down and disappear once the legal process catches up to them.

Where I live bars just buy the "for entertainment purposes only" slot machines that take quarters but don't actually pay out. But if you're a regular and you end up with a bunch of credits on the machine, the bar will pay you your winnings out of the cash register. That's a lot more unambiguously illegal than these sweepstakes schemes, but at least it doesn't result in people from the community losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a month to a shady company and wasting time in courts, legislative bodies, and law enforcement while everyone scrambles to try to shut them down. I don't think there's a perfect answer to what laws there should be around gambling, but it's pretty clear that these sweepstakes operations are not exactly the result of upstanding citizens running perfectly legitimate businesses.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:23 PM on October 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Where I live bars just buy the "for entertainment purposes only" slot machines that take quarters but don't actually pay out. But if you're a regular and you end up with a bunch of credits on the machine, the bar will pay you your winnings out of the cash register.

That's amazing. I've never seen this before (though I don't go to very many bars). They're actually paying out money? Not like a free drink or something? Is this activity really only for regulars? Does everyone know that's what the machines are for?
posted by roll truck roll at 1:26 PM on October 12, 2011


Well, in Nevada gambling brings in a lot of money from the rest of the country because of it's gambling operations. But that said, there is a lot of poverty in Nevada. The unemployment rate right now is 13.4%

To be fair, a lot of that can be attributed to the end of the housing boom, which was a significant one in Vegas, and it crashed hard there. I knew people who worked in construction who were flocking there for several years, leaving the SF Bay Area at the end of the dot com boom.
posted by krinklyfig at 1:42 PM on October 12, 2011


They're actually paying out money? Not like a free drink or something?

Yes, you put in quarters which show up on the machine as a given number of credits. Then you play a slot machine or video poker type game, winning or losing credits. Then at the end you can show the bartender how many credits you have and they will pay you out in cash and reset the credits on the machine to zero. I've actually seen this happen multiple times in multiple places, so it's not just rumors or something.

Is this activity really only for regulars?

I do not go around playing these things myself, and the only people I know who have played them at all were regulars at the places where they played them. I get the idea that if you randomly went to a place, won money, and asked for a payout, they would probably pretend to have no idea what you were talking about.

Does everyone know that's what the machines are for?

I think a lot of people don't realize that's what they are for, but it's not exactly a secret. There's literally no point to the machines otherwise, and they are in plain sight rather than in a back room somewhere or something. Most of the time no one is playing them, but when there is someone there it's obvious that they are playing for money even if you don't see them actually cash out. I assume it only works if the bar owners are friendly with local law enforcement, because it's definitely illegal to run slot machines in a bar like that.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:11 PM on October 12, 2011


That's amazing. I've never seen this before (though I don't go to very many bars). They're actually paying out money?

These old bar room "for entertainment purposes only" machines came up recently in a book I was reading about Whitey Bulger. Protection, kickbacks, local politicians...
posted by R. Mutt at 2:16 PM on October 12, 2011


It might be worth watching the linked video in this thread before arguing too strenuously that people play these kinds of games because it's a "choice" and good clean fun. And then there are people like my mom, who sent all her money to scam artists in Oz, for no apparent reason. "Play the lootery, Mom!" we begged her, but to no avail.
posted by sneebler at 5:50 PM on October 12, 2011


I'm not defending these people who exploit other people, but I am defending their right to do so by the existing laws.

Well at best this is a legal gray area. And the whole business model is clearly set up in a way that counts on the system either being illegal now or being illegal sometime shortly in the future.


Better or worse than payday loans?

These sweepstakes gamers lose 10% of their money (every time, granted) while looking at spinning lights on a screen. It's pretty much comparable to a slot machine (legal is certain locales).

Not only do payday loan victims lose 10% or more on their money off the bat, they can end up paying ~400% annual interest on money they never see. Usury law?

I feel like an optometrist: "One? ... Or Two?" ... "Well, doc, they both look like total bullshit to me, but if I had to pick, I'd take One."

You wanna start cracking down on exploitation, take a good hard look at the financial industry. I know it's not an either/or, just speaking to why these things (while admittedly sleazy and exploitative) don't get me all grar.

it's pretty clear that these sweepstakes operations are not exactly the result of upstanding citizens running perfectly legitimate businesses.

No, but on the other hand, they do provide a pretty good use case on which to craft legislation.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:20 AM on October 13, 2011


the main difference i can see between these places and state-sponsored lotteries is the payouts are better at the internet cafes (stated in the article to be north of 90% return). scratch-offs in my state pay out 70-80% return and the daily pick 3 pays out 50% of expected value. The mob would have gone out of business offering such miserly odds on "numbers".
posted by screamingnotlaughing at 6:25 PM on October 15, 2011


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