Manager of Internet Sweepstakes Cafe Pleads Not Guilty

By Ari Mason, George Colli and LeAnne Gendreau
|  Tuesday, Feb 25, 2014  |  Updated 5:20 PM EDT
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NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters broke the controversial story surrounding internet sweepstakes centers in Connecticut. George Colli was there as authorities raided the stores.

NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters broke the controversial story surrounding internet sweepstakes centers in Connecticut. George Colli was there as authorities raided the stores.

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The manager of an Enfield business center has pleaded not guilty to charges related to operating internet sweepstakes games.

Stephen Scott, 49, of Granby, Mass., is accused of operating gambling devices and maintaining a gambling premises.

His store, the Mouse Pad Business Center and Tech Solutions, was raided earlier this month by state and local police.

The raids came two weeks after an NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters investigation shed light on what police are calling illegal gambling operations in Enfield, Bloomfield and East Windsor.

State police, local police, the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office, Department of Consumer Protection and Department or Revenue Services have been involved in the investigation, which began three months ago, according to state police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance.

Vance said an anonymous tip sparked the investigation.

The first raid began around 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Mouse Pad Business Center and Tech Solutions, at 483 Enfield Street in Enfield.

Police obtained an arrest warrant for Scott charging him with possession of gambling devices and maintaining a gambling premises.

He turned himself in Feb. 12 and was released after posting $5,000 bond. Scott appeared in court and pleaded not guilty Feb. 25.

Investigators were at the scene for more than six hours Tuesday, Feb. 11 and hauled out dozens of computers and boxes of financial records.

"[Authorities] have seized over 200 pieces of evidence, which will become part and parcel of this criminal investigation," said Vance.

The Mouse Pad was one of the businesses investigated by the Troubleshooters. The business offers a sweepstakes contest in which customers can purchase phone cards or internet time to play slot-style video games in hopes of winning cash.

"I was on the computer and all of a sudden about 40 state police come in," said a customer who was inside the Mouse Pad when the raid began. "[They said], 'Hands up on the computers. Don't move.'"

According to Enfield police, the State Police Organized Crime Investigative Task Force "uncovered evidence that this business appeared to be in violation of Connecticut General Statutes concerning professional gambling and possession of gambling devices."

A second raid was conducted at the Bloomfield Business Center at 701 Park Avenue in Bloomfield, another location investigated by the Troubleshooters. Vance said the investigations in Bloomfield and Enfield were separate but connected.

During that raid, a Bloomfield Business Center employee, 32-year-old Derieka Henry, of Manchester, was charged with breach of peace and interfering with police.

Bloomfield Police Capt. Stephen Hajdasz said Henry was uncooperative with the officers executing the search warrant and did not follow orders from police.

Henry was released on a $2,500 bond.

It’s not clear if the Internet Connection in East Windsor location was also raided, but NBC Connecticut stopped by the store Tuesday to find the doors locked and the lights off.

Vance said he doesn't expect that any of the businesses' patrons will be charged, but the investigation is ongoing.

State Sen. Dante Bartolomeo said late last month that internet sweepstakes cafes violate the state's compact with Indian tribes operating casinos, and submitted a bill that would make them illegal.

Bartolomeo issued the following statement the day of the raids:

"The raids carried out today by the State Police send a clear message that these parasitic sweepstakes gambling dens are not welcome in Connecticut. I already submitted a bill, to clarify their illegality in our statutes, and I expect it to compliment and support the efforts of law enforcement. Every appeals court in the United States that has ruled on a case involving the activities of these sweepstakes cafes has found them to be a form of gaming, despite their claims to the contrary. I hope that legislative action taken alongside the work being done by state police will run the sweepstakes cafes out of Connecticut before they take root any further in our communities."

Last week, she testified in a Public Safety Committee hearing on Senate Bill 102, saying sweepstakes games constitute Class C gambling and violate the compact between the state and tribal casinos.

Business operators told the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters that the sweepstakes games are legal and do not constitute gambling because entries are free and results are predetermined.

The attorneys for the Mouse Pad sent the Troubleshooters a statement that reads, in part:

"The Mouse Pad supports enlightened regulation of instant-win video sweepstakes. It's subject to abuse. If you say you're running a promotional free game of chance, but what you are 'promoting' in actuality is only thin air, you know, something without value at all, the courts look at it differently. If the customer is paying something but the 'product' you are promoting is demonstrably of no value to consumers generally, then there can be nothing you are paying for, except for the game. That makes your spurious 'promotion' in actuality, illegal gambling. All of the courts of Connecticut's sister states have approached the question in this way."

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