PETERSBURG, VA (WWBT) - An internet cafe in Petersburg has been shut down amid allegations of illegal online gambling.
The police department raided the C&S business center internet coffee shops on South Sycamore and East Washington streets.
The investigation stems from citizen complaints - residents and business owners frustrated when someone would ask them where they can find the local casino. Now, detectives have seized around fifty computers they say were used in an illegal online gambling operation.
The sign on the door reads "you are not gambling," but Petersburg police beg to differ with that assertion, saying the C&S internet cafe was just a ruse.
"From the investigation that we have so far, we don't have any indication that people were generally checking emails or surfing the web. They were doing the gambling type activities," said Petersburg police spokeswoman Esther Hyatt.
The business description goes on to say "we are in the business of selling prepaid long distance phone service and high speed internet access." They sell these services through a promotional sweepstakes when customers buy cards to use the computers - something similar to slot machines. But police say the setup violates state statute. A North Carolina businessman owns both locations - he tells the department he opened the stores here because a lot of Petersburg residents play the state lottery.
Shop owners in the Sycamore Street strip though say the only way to describe the operation is "bad for business."
"When that business came in it brought a lot of trouble, a lot of trash, a lot of garbage," said Samuel Parham
There's no sign posting store hours at this location but shop owners tell us people were coming through here 24 hours a day.
"All night long, people sitting out of the building in chairs, waiting to go in to gamble. It just turned the whole area into a ghetto. It always was a nice clean area to have a business but when they came, they pretty much destroyed it."
After Saturday's raid, the businesses here are hoping they'll never see the shop again.
"Just as long as it is out of here we are in good shape."
Police say the owner of the business has been cooperating. Again, no arrests have been made as of yet, but the owner could be brought up on felony charges. The length of prison sentence and amount of fine depends on how long the operation has been in business and how much revenue it brought in during that time.