Ohio Senate plans ban on Internet cafes
By Marc Kovac
The head of the Ohio Senate announced the chamber’s “immediate intent” to pass legislation banning the operation of sweepstakes parlors, a change from earlier indications of prolonged deliberations on the issue.
Senate President Keith Faber, from Celina, said the decision to move forward was reached after briefings with Attorney General Mike DeWine and law enforcement officials.
“We have been given enough information to make an informed decision as to how to proceed on this issue,” Faber said. “I am convinced that these entities are not only illegal, but many of them also engage in criminal activities within their facilities.”
He added, “The time to act is now.”
Faber said the Senate would move as early as next week on legislation to extend a moratorium on the opening of new sweepstakes parlors, with subsequent passage in coming weeks of legislation that would prohibit such operations.
“The goal is to shut them down, and the goal is to have that done sometime in the month of May,” he said.
The announcement came amid reports of campaign contributions from industry representatives to lawmakers.
“I’ve asked every member of my caucus to return all political contributions received in this general assembly from anybody associated with this industry,” Faber said. “Now let me make it clear: I don’t believe those contributions were given outside the law. But we want to take nothing for granted.”
The move also came a week after DeWine launched a crackdown on the businesses, citing an appeals court decision.
DeWine and law enforcement officials subsequently raided half a dozen parlors, and the attorney general pledged to help local law enforcement with their efforts to shut down other locations.
Multiple bills have been introduced, directed at 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 and using computers that resemble slot machines.
About 800 of the businesses have registered with the state to date.
Earlier this year, the Ohio House passed a new version of the Internet caf legislation that would ban cash payouts or merchandise prizes worth more than $10, with additional language added to ensure other businesses could continue to offer sweepstakes contests, including McDonald’s oft-mentioned Monopoly promotion.
Supporters believe the legislation would effectively shutter the bulk of the sweepstakes parlors currently operating in the state and stop unregulated gambling and potential illicit activities that sometimes come with such establishments.
But parlor owners and some Republican lawmakers have countered that the proposed law changes would hurt legitimate business enterprises and will potentially cost the state thousands of jobs.