Bingo hall loses bid to stop 'sweepstakes' enforcement

Patapsco Bingo in Baltimore on Thursday lost its court bid to stop city police from enforcing a ban on Internet "sweepstakes" parlors offering cash prizes on games that play like slot machines.

After a Circuit Court hearing, Judge Jeffrey M. Geller denied a request by the business' operator, BBB Management Inc., for a temporary restraining order, saying the business did not show that "immediate, substantial and irreparable harm will result" to the operation before a full hearing can be held.

The company asked for the order Monday, after receiving notice from police that the computer terminals used in the sweepstakes games were illegal slot machines and must be removed from the building by Sept. 30. The police letter followed a ruling by the city's lawyers that under a Maryland law adopted this year, the games are illegal slot machines, in part because the operation pays cash prizes.

Neither a spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department nor the lawyer for BBB Management could be reached for comment.

The sweepstakes operators have said their games are legal because they sell Internet time, and only give away free points to play the video games, which look and sound like slot machines. Signs outside Patapsco Bingo and other game rooms in the area advertise cash prizes.

Patapsco Bingo, which also runs a conventional bingo game at its location on Annapolis Road, is one of the largest "sweepstakes" operations in the area, with more than 100 computer terminals. Other operations have opened elsewhere in the city and in Baltimore County.

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