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Ohio AG: Regulate Internet gaming



Published: Mon, March 28, 2011 @ 12:00 a.m.

Ccolumbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS

If you want to gamble in Ohio, you don’t have to wait until three casinos are built. And you won’t have to stray from the Mahoning Valley.

Hundreds of Internet caf s and game parlors statewide offer games that function like slot machines with cash prizes.

In response, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is supporting legislation to strictly regulate themy.

“I’ve seen them everywhere in the state,” said one of DeWine’s investigators who The Dispatch agreed not to identify. “They are in gas stations and strip malls ... all the way up to game rooms that have hundreds of machines.”

In Warren on Friday, three such gaming establishments were raided, and about 150 machines were seized. No charges have been filed.

The “sweepstakes” establishments are, however, legal in Ohio — sort of.

“There’s no law that was designed for them. They kind of morphed out of other ways of making money,” said DeWine, a Republican who took office in January. “Every other form of legal gambling in this state is somehow regulated. This is not.”

New game locations are opening all over Ohio, mostly, but not exclusively, in urban areas.

“It’s like bailing out the ocean,” DeWine said. “They are everywhere.”

Working with Republican state Reps. Marlene Anielski of Walton Hills and Nan Baker of Westlake, DeWine is backing proposed legislation to bring the unregulated world of “sweepstakes” games and Internet cafes under control of the Ohio Casino Control Commission.

The proposal would require games to be examined, certified and stamped by the commission. Operators would have to be licensed and would be limited to no more than five games at a single location. Violators would face criminal penalties. Fees that operators might be charged were not specified by legislators.

The games go by different names — none of which mention gambling: Buckeye Internet Cafe, Chatterbox, Lucky Dog, Players Club, Sky’s Net, Treasure Chest. Some offer business services, such as Internet connections and fax. Most provide customers with free food and nonalcoholic beverages.

The investigator who has visited many of the game parlors under cover said customers purchase Internet time or a phone card. They use the cards on machines, usually computers and monitors which are loaded with poker or slot-machine match-style games.

Players bet points on their card until they run out. They then can cash out their winnings, if they have any, or transfer them to continue playing. Winners are pre-determined and are not based on skill, state officials said.

Winnings can be taken in cash or merchandise such as car wax, cans of coffee or gas cards.

“Nobody is there playing for the jumbo pack of paper towels,” the investigator said. “They’re there to win cash.”

Much like pay-day lenders, Internet cafe businesses are opening in transitional neighborhoods. That worries advocates for the poor and seniors, two groups that often fall prey to gambling schemes.

“My concern is they’re locating in areas where people have inadequate income and are desperate enough to gamble,” said Cathy Levine, head of the Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio. Indeed, many of the customers DeWine’s investigators see while undercover are senior citizens, people in lower or fixed incomes and the disabled.

Rep. Anielski, co-sponsor of the Internet cafe legislation, has done her own undercover work, visiting 10 sites in four counties, including Franklin, over the past month.

“In one place, I was put on a waiting list because there were so many people playing,” she said. “They had free pizza, soft drinks, hot coffee and an ATM machine.”

Anielski said one location had 62 machines; the least she saw was 20.

She said the proprietors made it clear they understand they are skirting, if not outright defying, Ohio law.

“They were pretty open with me,” she added.

“Some of the people were there, they would tell me, ‘Don’t keep a lot of money on your card because you never know when the state is going to come in.’”

Pete Thomas, head of the charitable law section in the attorney general’s office, has a blunt warning for those visiting the cafes.

“You’re walking into a real potential scam. You don’t know the odds of winning or losing. It could be 1 in a million. You don’t know if the operator is really paying out. A lot of people are getting ripped off.”


Comments

1lee(544 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

Why don't you spend your time catching perverts let the fools lose their own money

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2lovethebuckeyes(32 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

Lee, you are so naive. This has nothing to do about protecting fools from loosing their money; it has everything to do about more TAXES for the government. They don't care if you loose everything you have as long as they get a nice fat cut!

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3lee(544 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

I am very well aware that it is only a way for the Govt to take more of our money.
They are still wasting time and not catching real crooks.
I don't even play the lotto it's a (stupid tax)

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4fsavon(1 comment)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

It is my opinion that the State of Ohio would rather have people buying instant lottery tickets from $1.00 to $20.00 and the payout is so small. I know for a fact that you don't win often. I purchased five $20.00 lottery tickets and won a total of $10.00. A good investment of $100.00 will get you $10.00. What you have left is four tickets that are worthless. You can go to an Internet Sweepstakes Cafe and buy Internet or long distant phone time. You can surf the web or play games that will give you the chance to win a sweepstakes. If you chose to play games too win a sweepstake, you never lose your phone or internet time. The Attorney General would like to limit the number of computer to (5) in each location. That is the way to eliminate most locations. So what does this tell you as to why they want to do this? The reason is that all the people who went to the Internet Cafés will buy more lottery tickets controlled by the state. I would think buying lottery tickets is a game of chance with random winners. Should the State of Ohio stop selling lottery tickets because it is illegal? Of course not! It’s ok for the State to do, but not private citizens. The article in the Vindicator stated, that one undercover investigator said, “My concern is they’re locating in areas where people have inadequate income and are desperate enough to gamble”. I would think if the State of Ohio was concerned for people with inadequate incomes, they would not have locations in those areas to protect them from buying lottery tickets. We all know that is not true because, they would rather have the money spent buying lottery tickets than going to the internet cafés. If they wanted to, they could ask for proof of income prior to the sale of lottery tickets. I am sure they would not do that. I think this country was founded on free enterprise. Additionally, I think internet sweepstakes cafés should not be restricted to (5) computers, especially if the State of Ohio has any interest in the revenue they could lose. As a solution, charge a license fee, a computer fee or any other fee needed to make additional money.

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5lee(544 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

They don't need additional money ,they need to cut spending on stupid stuff.

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6grandmagina(14 comments)posted 3 years, 5 months ago

I enjoy going to the internet cafes. I would rather spend my money in a local estabishment, then spend it in W. Virginia or Pittsburgh. There are a lot of older people that enjoy going to play at the internet cafes, they may spend $10 or $20, but they are having a good time, are given food and beverages and it is close enough to get to and it is a few hour for them to get out and socialize. I do not think the state cares about the low income people or they would not sell lottery tickets. What about are the calls you get from FOP and other organizations that call and want to sell you tickets to win something. Isn't that a game of chance?? Not one of them have ever asked me if I am in the low income bracket, They just want my money. They don't care if I can afford it or not.

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