Internet access ... ... with a sweepstakes twist

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By Amy Ryffel-Kragh

At first glance, it may be perceived as a place to strictly log onto the Internet. But in reality, it’s a game promotion also.

Local Internet cafés seem to be popping up everywhere in Marion County. Driving by, the word Internet could make the average person assume it is a place to access the Web. Technically it is, but users can also enter “sweepstakes.”

When walking into the Internet Access Depot II on State Road 200, it is an inviting place. It is crisp and clean, and a friendly customer service employee greets the customers. Owners Gary Reynolds and his wife, Elaine, opened the business in April and say customer service is important.

Customers must be 18 years old and have proof of identification. After the ID is checked, then the list of rules and prizes is presented. The customer must sign the rule list, which is also clearly displayed on the wall.

After getting checked in, the client decides how many entries they want to purchase and put on their swipe card. The game promotion entries are put onto a magnetic card, which allows the player to open their sweepstakes. Patrons who wish to strictly log onto the Internet can do that also. The cost is 10 cents a minute.

Having played similar games in the past I was conservative at first; $10 went onto the card. Heading over to the larger of a couple a gaming rooms, I found a seat next to another player. Though not new to playing computer games, the rules and ways to play needed to be explained to me.

While being guided through the first few games, an Internet 777 type of slot game is selected. The first “reveal” button pressed was a winner. Though the win was not a lot of money, merely cents, it still was a victory.

But being a winner is luck of the draw, said Sunny Clouse, a customer service employee. “The entries encoded onto the magnetic card are selected randomly and the winning entries are not known until revealed as directed,” according to the business’ game promotion rules.

In other words, the winnings sweepstakes are random. “I have no control over who wins and who doesn’t,” Gary said.

At Internet Access Depot II, customers can reveal all of their sweepstakes entries right away without ever playing a game. “It will all come out the same,” he said.

Elaine explained that the games do not give the wins, since the winning sweepstakes are chosen at random. Gary said the games are “an entertaining way of revealing your entries.”

However the business has assortment of game choices for those who wish to play. There are approximately 10 slot-type machines, with most having bonus rounds like extra spins. There are also some card games and keno, which is similar to bingo.

To better explain how game promotion establishments work in general, Mark Simpson, assistant state attorney and supervisor of the public interest unit, used the Monopoly game that McDonald’s restaurant has each year as an example. Customers can get a game piece free without having to purchase anything. It is considered a game promotion and is an exception under the Florida Statue 849.094.

According to the statue, “game promotion means, but is not limited to, a contest, game of chance, or gift enterprise, conducted within or throughout the state and other states in connection with the sale of consumer products or services, and in which the elements of chance and prize are present.”

The Florida State Senate has been looking at Internet cafes and it is unclear whether it will be discussed at its next session, Simpson said.

The Reynolds’ elaborated on the example of the McDonald’s game promotion. Gary said if a customer tears off the $1 million game piece, they have won the money. If not, then they get whatever is under the piece.

Just like with the Monopoly game, customers of Internet Access Depot II do not have to purchase sweepstakes entries either. Every 24 hours, 100 sweepstakes entries can be obtained free of charge at the business.

For those who wish to get free entries by mail, they have to send a postcard to World Touch Gaming, Inc. in Georgia, according to the official game promotion rules from the business. “No purchase necessary to enter the sweepstakes,” Gary said.

Entries Can Add Up

For the customer who wants more entries than the 100 free they can receive each day, the money can add up. After spending a little more than two hours at the Internet business, my largest jackpot at one time, was a little more than $20, which I eventually spent. And, the $30 I started with was gone also. However, near the end of my time a nearby customer won $400.

The top prize at the business is $3,000, which the Reynolds’ said is won about every seven to nine days.

According to Sgt. Grady Grimes, of the Sheriff’s Southwest District, the Sheriff’s Office routinely monitors these types of businesses for illegal gambling activities. In addition, Simpson said his office also looks at Internet café-type of businesses on an individual basis.

Internet Access Depot II is licensed with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and is bonded with the State of Florida.

The Reynolds’ also own Internet Access Depot I in Citrus County. It took approximately two years to open that store, because they wanted to make sure to “cross all the T’s and dot all of the I’s,” explained Gary.

Internet Access Depot II, 8820 S.W. Hwy. 200, is open Monday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. to midnight, and Sunday noon to 10 p.m.