Policing Internet gambling falls to local office holders

Legislators in Columbus looked the other way while across the state hundreds of Internet cafes were established and began operating in what we believe is in obvious violation of the Ohio Constitution.

Now it is left to local communities to deal with the problem as best as they can.

The Legislature’s eventual response to strip-plaza gambling joints popping up like mushrooms in the spring was a law that does little more than require operators to register, which has, at least, given people in Columbus some idea of how ubiquitous these parlors have become. There are at least 800 of them in Ohio. And it has allowed Atty. Gen. Mike DeWine to declare a moratorium on new storefront gambling parlors.

To its credit, Boardman Township has taken the initiative in using the limited provisions that state law provides to bring some order to Internet gambling in the township.

Using the home rule powers available to more populous townships in the state, Boardman trustees approved a resolution that will require Internet cafe owners to post gaming odds and to submit to testing from private companies to prove the machines are sweepstakes devices, not slot machines. Admission will be limited to people 18 or older and operators will have to pay a $100-per-machine fee to cover the township’s cost of policing these operations.

It’s in the constitution

The Ohio Constitution strictly prohibits gambling in the state and it has taken two constitutional amendments — one authorizing the state lottery and one authorizing the construction of specific casinos in Toledo, Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati — to circumvent that prohibition. The legislature has approved the expansion of slot machines at horse racing tracks by licensing them through the state lottery.

What those gambling operations have in common— aside from the constitutional amendments that allowed their development — is strict oversight by the state to avoid the fleecing of gamblers. The state can’t change the basic tenet of casino gambling — the house always wins — but it can assure that gamblers know the odds they face when they walk through the doors.

Boardman is being proactive in trying to make the best of what has been allowed to evolve into a bad situation.

We look forward to other jurisdictions becoming equally vigilant. This should be high on the priority list for Austintown, which will be host to Penn National Gaming Inc.’s $250 million horse track and slots-only casino.

Ultimately we hope the legislature takes a second look at the need to control gambling outside of the approved casinos and racinos. We don’t think that will take long, as the state becomes more and more reliant on the income that the legal gambling operations provide for state and local governments.

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