Two out-of-state men arrested for running illegal gambling operation in North Syracuse

Zachary McMahon

The outside windows of the North Syracuse Cyber Cafe advertise "sweepstakes" but inside, customers say they could play slot machine style games if they purchased internet time.

Marie Spuches and other customers say the amount you paid at the front desk showed up as credits in the computers. If you won at the video slots, credits showed up in a prize category - and the front desk paid the winnings in cash.

"You could win money and put on as much as you wanted to bet" said Spuches.

At first, Spuches said she wasn't sure the Cyber Cafe, located near Sweetheart Corners and the North Syracuse Junior High School, was legitimate.

"We asked about that when we first started coming and they said it was all legal and everything" said Spuches.

Last year, state lawmakers closed an existing legal loophole, making internet sweepstakes cafes illegal.

Over a period of several months, State Police investigators conducted an undercover sting operation at the North Syracuse cyber café. Police investigator Peter Burns said the café housed about 60 computers, and the screens looked like typical casino style slot machines.

"You had to pay $20 for this internet time, that was the minimum purchase we were able to make and that would show up on one of the computers when you logged in as credits" said Burns.

On Wednesday, police charged 24-year-old Joshua Nelson of Dayton, Ohio and 30-year-old Zachary McMahon of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with operating an unlawful electronic sweepstakes. State police seized approximately $1279 in cash and numerous computers from the site. One customer told CNYCentral that he had $200 in credits on one of the machines that was taken from the café.

Marie Spuches was disappointed to find the cyber cafe closed on Thursday -- and sorry to hear the owners were in trouble.

"It was an alternative to going to the casino. Something to do on a Friday, or Saturday night" said Spuches.

The café remains closed. Nelson and McMahon are due back in North Syracuse Court on July 21st. If convicted, they face up to four years in prison.

The charges are under NYS Penal Law 156.40, which says:

A person is guilty of operating an unlawful electronic sweepstakes when he or she knowingly possesses with the intent to operate, or place into operation, an electronic machine or device to:

(a) Conduct a sweepstakes through the use of an entertaining display, including the entry process or the reveal of a prize; or

(b) Promote a sweepstakes that is conducted through the use of an entertaining display, including the entry process or the reveal of a prize.