Internet cafes as interlopers

Internet cafes as interlopers

Toledo Blade: Internet sweepstakes cafes are near the top of the Ohio House’s agenda this year. The prize should be legislation that draws a bright line between legitimate sweepstakes promotions and gambling by another name.

There are about 800 Internet cafes in Ohio. Cafe owners claim they are in the business of selling Internet access or telephone time. They say the “sweepstakes” they offer are merely promotions to bring in customers.

Patrons play games that look remarkably like slot machines to find out whether they are among the sweepstakes’ predetermined winners. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine believes that activity may cross the line between legal sweepstakes and illegal gambling.

Opportunity missed

Regulation of Internet cafes should have occurred last year. The House overwhelmingly passed a bill in December that would have limited prizes to $10 and prohibited cash awards. But Senate leaders let the bill die, saying it also could have banned sweepstakes such as those operated by McDonald’s restaurants.

Internet cafes divert money from churches and fraternal organizations that operate bingo and other legal gambling. These groups are strictly regulated and are required to give part of their proceeds to charity. The sweepstakes stores are mostly in poor neighborhoods whose residents are least able to afford to throw their money away.

A statewide moratorium on new Internet cafes runs out in June, so lawmakers need to act soon to regulate them.

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