HAYWARD CITY COUNCIL | Ron Doyle’s Internet café is located in the shadows of Hayward City Hall, but the owner says those inside are doing more than hovering over his business. A countywide bid to shut down businesses like Doyle’s that offer Internet sweepstakes has been simmering for months with emergency ordinances popping up from the Alameda County Board of Supervisors to San Leandro.
This week the Hayward City Council unanimously approved a 45-day moratorium on extending business license to operators offering these types of gaming services after the state Attorney General’s office issued an alert over its illegality.
“We conduct our businesses legitimately, legally, we don’t break any laws,” said Doyle, owner of Net Connection at 778 B Street. “I resent that fact I’m being told I’m doing something illegal when I’m not.”
Doyle owns a similar establishment in unincorporated San Lorenzo also under threat of closure by the county. “You guys are being lied to, being exaggerated to," said Doyle in comments directed at city staff. "This is America. I went to war to protect us from tyrants and that’s what they are doing. They’re trying to bully us. We’ve done nothing wrong and I resent the fact they want to shut us down.”
Councilmembers Barbara Halliday and Mark Salinas, however, said in the last week they made trips to Doyle’s business and found what they believe is evidence of gambling. Halliday said she saw Vegas-style games like Blackjack on computer screens. “If people are not going in there to play theses games, then what exactly are you selling?” asked Halliday.
Customers purchase time to connect to the Web, said Doyle, along with the ability to play games. However, he says they are not games of chance, but have pre-determined results no different than the popular Monopoly game at McDonald’s where customers peel off game pieces from cups for a chance to win prizes. Halliday countered saying the public library located nearby offers free Internet service.
Salinas said he also swung by Doyle’s Net Connection recently and reported every computer screen featured “card games.” “Why is there a need for a bouncer and security guard if it’s an Internet services business?” Like any other business, Doyle contended, he says security guards are needed to keep “riff raff” from coming inside.
“I know the gentleman believes he’s running a legitimate business, but this is not the type of business we want in Hayward,” Halliday later said. “Nobody is demanding more internet gambling. I have not heard one person say this.”
Nevertheless, Doyle says the city is erroneously lumping him together with other Internet café businesses he admits break the law, but he is not one of them. “Some people when they see a pretty girl walking down the street think she’s a prostitute,” Doyle colorfully said. “Yeah, some of the girls walking down the streets are prostitutes, but not every girl is a prostitute. We are not the kind of organization that they are talking about. We do not do the things they are saying in here.”
Although city staff had defined the proposed moratorium to prohibit new Internet cafes in the city with four or more terminals, Councilman Greg Jones moved to further tighten the measure. “I’m not sure it’s restrictive enough,” said the former Hayward city manager. “They way it is defined, it could be circumvented.” City Attorney Michael Lawson agreed, yet added, the moratorium could be tweaked after the initial 45 days. “I think we’re leaving the door open for the next 45 days,” Jones cautioned. The council agreed and moved to lower the number to a single computer.