By Ashley Luthern
A local senior-living complex soon will be transformed into an Internet sweepstakes cafe.
Businessman Felix Savon has received a conditional- use permit from the township zoning board of appeals to install 50 computer stations in the front part of Sateri Retirement Apartments, 960 Boardman-Canfield Road.
Savon said the 10 tenants in the building have about two months to move before the cafe’s opening.
“We’re not doing anything to hurt the clients that are there. We’re working with local agencies, and placements have already been secured,” he said.
The change was prompted by the lack of profitability of the health-care business, said Savon, who owns the buildings and has been in the industry since 1972.
“All three of my buildings [on U.S. Route 224] are assisted living,” he said. “We’re trying to downsize a little bit and maintain two of them. Actually, to be honest, it’s still not profitable. It would almost be worth it if I closed and let them sit there, but I don’t like vacant buildings.”
Savon said the changes in health-care costs from the federal and state levels have hurt his business. So, with shrinking profits, he decided to try something new and “something that would be fun.”
“I frequently go to [the cafes]. I don’t see a lot of sad people there, I see people there having fun and enjoying themselves,” Savon said.
The plan includes increasing the size of the parking lot and interior renovations, possibly putting retail shops where the apartments used to be.
“But right now, I’m sitting back and watching to see what’s happening,” Savon added.
He’s referring to legislation recommended last month by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine that would establish oversight of gaming at Internet cafes and similar establishments.
Last month, DeWine announced that he was working with two state representatives to draft legislation that would mandate skill-based or sweepstakes gaming parlors be certified with a license issued by the Casino Control Commission.
It also would allow municipalities to opt out of having gaming locations and would limit the number of sweepstakes gaming terminals to five per location.
“The legislation has not yet been introduced. Everything will start with the bill once it’s drafted and then ... the legislative process has a lot of opportunities for give and take,” said Lisa Hackley, spokeswoman for the Ohio Attorney General’s office.
Savon said his biggest concern is with the limited number of machines.
“To put it at five is going to be ridiculous. They’ll have them on every little corner in gas stations or corner stores. It’s not going to stop it at all,” he said.
Hackley said Savon’s concern was “speculative” and that “it would depend on who wants to pay the licensing fee.”
Township Zoning Inspector Anna Mamone said her department gets inquiries about Internet sweepstakes cafes every day. The township has approved 11 Internet sweepstakes cafes since the first request was filed in December 2007.
A hearing is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday for another Internet sweepstakes cafe with a proposed location in Boardman Plaza.
“We’re hoping to get rules and guidelines,” Mamone said. “... Until we get a recommendation from the attorney general, we have no other recourse” than the board of zoning appeals.
Savon’s first request for an Internet sweepstakes cafe in another location was denied because that property, on Route 224 across from the Blue Wolf Tavern, was zoned residential, Mamone said. The Sateri site already is zoned commercial.
Savon is readying his first Internet sweepstakes cafe and is watching for the legislation.
“That’s the trouble with anything that’s new and someone does not have control over it. They get excited. I think that’s what happening with the states. They want to control [the cafes], and when they have control, they have their hand out and they have to be paid,” he said.