When Caesar’s Palace Meets Publisher’s Clearing House

December 19, 2011 |  by  |  Soapbox  |  , ,

Photo: Peter Woodall

Last week, a sort of miniature gaming den tried to open on Frankford Avenue in Fishtown. This was supposedly an Internet café, but it really was a pop-up casino, offering games and cash prizes.

Thankfully, the property owner, feeling duped, has already yanked the prospective tenant’s lease.

Unfortunately, however, this is just the first hand of a growing retail sector’s play for Philadelphia.

Sweepstakes cafés are like Internet cafés, but instead of offering computers for browsing, reading e-mail, and checking Facebook, the machines come loaded with “sweepstakes games”: casino-like slots, poker, blackjack, and craps. Supposedly, the payout rules run closer to a lottery, or sweepstakes. Think of as a combination Caesars Palace and Publishers Clearing House.

These storefront operations have infiltrated the South extensively, and also have made their way to Massachusetts and Utah. Like regular casinos, they target the poor and the elderly, and have business plans designed to maneuver through a bevy of regulatory loopholes. Their license applications make them look like Internet cafés that offer, say, a daily raffle. While a sweepstakes cafe may, in fact, give a precise daily payout, the games are designed to extract as much cash as possible before pay-out. Sometimes they are open 24 hours.

Calypso Sun Cyber Cafe, Valrico, FL | Photo: Jason Behnkenstaff, Tampa Tribune

According to Business Week, each individual unit grosses between one and five thousand dollars a month—or $250,000 monthly—to the tune of three million a year. Like the schemes behind the proliferating bandit signs, this is money being made—and let us be clear now—by circumventing the law and exploiting the most vulnerable. Sounds like a business made for Philly.

Now, the first hand has been played. This casino operator lost. But I worry–in a city of the vulnerable with weak enforcement of property rules–the deck is stacked and it may not be working in our favor.

About the author

Stephen Stofka is interested in the urban form and the way we change it. A graduate of the Geography and Urban Studies program at Temple University, he enjoys examining the architecture, siting, streetscapes, transportation, access, and other subtle elements that make a city a city.

Send a message!



3 Comments


  1. Yes, this facility would be harmful to the community. A good exercise would be to discuss the reasons why and then to see whether those reasons exist with respect to SugarHouse.

  2. True…but I would like to point out that while I don’t like SugarHouse either, I am particularly worried about these sweepstakes cafés’ business plans’ actively working around the law whereas SugarHouse was begun only after the law allowed such entities.

    To put it another way, I think there’s a moral issue and a jurisprudential issue. Let’s solve the jurisprudential issue before we attempt to tackle the moral one.

  3. Stephen, I appreciate you writing this great article and I didn’t mean for my comment to be perceived as criticism. I was just hoping to get people thinking about the broader issue of what I like to refer to as predatory gambling. To my mind, when it comes to thinking about the health and safety of our communities, it shouldn’t make a difference whether the activity is legalized predatory gambling (and I include the lottery in this) or whether the activity is illegal predatory gambling, such as this internet gambling cafe. When we as a society — and also the PA legislature — think about passing a law to clearly outlaw these internet gambling cafes (and I would totally support such a law), we should think about what it is we’re trying to prevent and why. Some of the reasons you appropriately allude to in your article. Thanks, Paul

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
On 40th Street, New Life For A Long-Hidden Furness

On 40th Street, New Life For A Long-Hidden Furness

October 18, 2017  |  Vantage

What's it take to restore this early Furness? Hidden City talks to developer Tom Lussenhop about the tear-down disaster ongoing across the city and his plans for the former West Philadelphia Institute > more

Praise And Protest At Historical Commission Meeting

Praise And Protest At Historical Commission Meeting

October 17, 2017  |  News

Applause and anger filled the room at the monthly Historical Commission meeting on Friday. GroJLart has the details > more

The True Center Of The City Revealed

The True Center Of The City Revealed

October 13, 2017  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

City Hall may be the "heart" of Philadelphia, but an unassuming corner in North Philly is the true center of the city. Harry K. explores the evolution of Penn's greene country towne and how Philadelphia has a history of being the center of attention > more

LIGHTS! MUSIC! ACTION! Historic Lansdowne Theater Poised For A Comeback

LIGHTS! MUSIC! ACTION! Historic Lansdowne Theater Poised For A Comeback

October 11, 2017  |  Vantage

After 30 years' slumber, Lansdowne's sumptuous Art Deco movie palace is ready to wake up, and rouse Main Street too, with music and community spirit. Ben Leech has the story > more

Wish You Were Here: Postcards From The Past Recall

Wish You Were Here: Postcards From The Past Recall “Real Philadelphia”

October 10, 2017  |  Vantage

The Athenaeum of Philadelphia's new exhibition, "Real Philadelphia: Selections from the Robert M. Skaler Postcard Collection," puts elusive images of working class city life in the limelight. Contributor Karen Chernick has the review > more

Designing The Future Of Healthcare With Stephen Klasko

Designing The Future Of Healthcare With Stephen Klasko

October 4, 2017  |  Vantage

Dr. Stephen Klasko wants to disrupt traditional hospital care and integrate medicine into our everyday life. Through service and information delivery systems similar to Netflix, Apple stores, and virtual reality, the president and CEO of Jefferson Healthcare System believes the future of our well being lies in smart design. Contributor Hilary Jay, founder of DesignPhiladelphia, sits down with Dr. Klasko to discuss breaking the status quo of the medical industry with user-minded health care > more