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Amusement industry watches ‘Internet Café’ case

A Roanoke County challenge to seizure of money and equipment from an “Internet parlor” has the attention of both the amusement industry and federal and state law enforcement officials.

Represented by state Sen. John Edwards, Ronnie Bennett is suing the Roanoke County prosecutor and police asking a judge to order the return of computers, business records and money seized during a raid on his business in April. No criminal charges have been brought, and Bennett also seeks a declaration that his operation was not illegal.

Watching a motions hearing Tuesday was a member of the Amusement and Music Operators of Virginia trade group as well as a federal prosecutor. A federal grand jury has subpoenaed some of the materials seized from the Roanoke County raid, lawyers said.

Meanwhile, Roanoke Circuit Judge Clifford Weckstein ruled the state is a necessary party to Bennett’s effort to recoup his property. He allowed three weeks for Bennett to bring the commonwealth into the case.

At issue is whether a sweepstakes premium for purchase of Internet access violates Virginia gambling laws. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued a July opinion that suggests so-called Internet cafés are legal, but police have shut down such businesses and seized hundreds of computers in Virginia Beach, Roanoke and Roanoke County.

In Roanoke, Bennett said, authorities allowed him to reclaim his property. Roanoke County authorities say their investigation is ongoing, with help from computer experts with the Virginia State Police.

By Peter Vieth

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