Internet-cafe legislation on hold
By Marc Kovac
The Ohio Senate will not act on legislation before the end of the year that likely would shutter many of the state’s sweepstakes parlors.
Senate President Tom Niehaus, a Republican from New Richmond, told reporters Tuesday there isn’t enough time to deal with the issues involved before the General Assembly ends its work.
“It’s a very complicated bill. I do believe that it will be addressed very early in the next General Assembly,” Niehaus said. “But we were simply running out of time. I even asked, ‘Could we take another week or two; would that make a difference?,’ [but] just did not feel that there was ample time to address some of the questions.”
The decision Tuesday followed two hearings of House Bill 605 before the Senate’s government oversight committee, where the bill’s sponsor and Attorney General Mike DeWine, a proponent, were questioned by Republicans and Democrats about the potential effects of the proposed law changes.
The legislation focuses on what have commonly been called Internet cafes, though the businesses are not the typical coffee shops where customers go to read email or browse websites. Generally, patrons purchase phone cards upon entering, buying a chance to win sweepstakes prizes using computers set up on the premises that resemble and operate like slot machines.
HB 605 would require sweepstakes parlors to register with the attorney general’s office, with additional regulations to be developed. The storefronts would be banned from offering cash payouts or merchandise prizes worth more than $10. And there would be criminal penalties against those that violate the law.
Backers of the bill admit the changes likely would lead to the closing of many of the storefronts.
The legislation prompted opposition testimony from dozens of cafe owners and concern among lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle about the impact on small businesses that have been operating legally, under some court interpretations.
They also questioned whether the law changes would make illegal sweepstakes offered by other businesses, including McDonald’s.