By Marc Kovac
Attorney General Mike DeWine stopped by a Dayton-area Internet caf Friday morning.
He and Pete Thomas, head of the charitable-law section of the attorney general’s office, plunked down $5 for a card such establishments require to play games of chance.
Four minutes later, they won $3. Or, perhaps more accurately, they lost $2.
DeWine used the visit to draw attention to what he is calling the “wild west” of Ohio gambling — Internet caf s where customers essentially pay to play slot machines without any state oversight or regulation.
It’s a situation DeWine wants to change. On Friday, he continued to urge state lawmakers to require such gaming businesses to obtain licenses from the new casino- control commission.
“To me, it is a consumer issue, and these places are frankly consumer rip-offs,” DeWine said. “When you go to a racetrack, the law says how much has to be paid back. When the new casinos are up, the law will say how much the slot machines have to pay back. These guys are running under the radar, quite frankly, and they’re making millions and millions and millions of dollars.”
He added, “There is no regulation for these folks at all. We don’t know who owns them. No background checks are done on the ownership. There is no guarantee what the payoff is. And certainly we can assume no money is going to charity.”
Internet caf s and comparable storefronts began surfacing after lawmakers tightened state law concerning skill-based amusement games.
Skill-based machines, including Skee Ball, Whac-a-Mole and comparable games, are allowed under state law. But limits are in place on prizes — no cash or gift cards, and only merchandise with a wholesale value of less than $10.
The changes were made in recent years in an attempt to stop the proliferation of slot machine-like terminals operated in parlors around the state.
But new businesses have since sprouted around Ohio offering online games that DeWine said do not meet the definition of skill-based amusements and, in his opinion, are illegal.
However, state law is not clear enough, the attorney general said, to enable law enforcement to crack down on Internet caf s.
“On skill games, they say there’s no chance, it’s a game of skill, so therefore it’s not illegal gambling,” Thomas said. “Here, they’re saying there’s no consideration. You’re not buying a chance to gamble, you’re buying a phone card. So that’s the loophole in the law.”
Legislation being considered at the Statehouse would close that loophole. The bill would require sweepstakes machines to be certified and licensed by the Ohio Casino Control Commission prior to being played by the public.
DeWine said Friday he hopes lawmakers will move quickly on the legislation.
“Make no mistake about it, this continues to grow ...,” he said. “Every day that goes on, ... Ohio consumers are losing money. Again, if they want to gamble, that’s fine, but people ought to at least know what their odds are, they ought to have a fair shake.”