SPRINGFIELD TWP: Outside Cafe 7, three men in a parking lot leaned back in their chairs in the middle of the afternoon Friday.
Inside the Canton Road storefront, the Internet cafe that once thrived with patrons sat idle and dark.
Down the road inside the 777, about a dozen customers gazed into computer screens. Within the hour, shortly after a reporter visited, the monitors went black.
All along Canton Road — Springfield Township’s version of the Vegas strip — storefront cafes where customers spent money for a chance at winning more money were shuttered.
The men outside Cafe 7 didn’t want to talk. They were on break, they said, and the owner was away. Give it two weeks, they said, and the place should be back open.
That might be optimistic.
“It’s possible that it’s over,” said attorney Michael Callahan, who represents the owner of Cafe 7.
The silence came in reaction to a new state law targeting so-called Internet cafes. It went into effect Friday morning.
At the 777 in the early afternoon, it first appeared to be business as usual. But by 3 p.m., it was closed. A manager declined to comment.
She called the owner by phone, but he declined to speak and referred questions to his attorney, Don Malarcik, who also declined to comment.
No contact information was available on three other storefronts on Canton Road that appeared to be closed.
State legislators contend the parlors are really houses of illegal gambling. After years of court battles and police raids, state legislation was passed three months ago that severely hampers the owners’ ability to turn a profit or entice patrons to open their pocketbooks.
Under the law, prizes are limited to $10 in value and cannot be in the form of cash, gift cards, lottery tickets, alcohol, tobacco or firearms. Business owners also must register with the state and file monthly reports.
Cafe owners maintain that their operations were not forms of gambling. Patrons would buy plastic cards for phone and Internet time with chances to play computer games that offer cash prizes.
Callahan said storefront owners are trying to decide what to do. It’s possible, he said, that some might convert their video terminals away from the Internet and back to old-fashioned skill games like Tic Tac Fruit.
It also could be the end for some owners, who can’t afford to fight the state — and its intention to protect regulated casinos and slots — any longer, he said.
“I’m not sure who wants to pay all the money to keep on challenging this,” Callahan said. “Obviously, the casino owners fought for this and they won. We’ll have to see what happens next.”