There’s no exception in Ohio’s constitution for Internet cafes

There’s no exception in Ohio’s constitution for Internet cafes

The Ohio General Assembly, which failed miserably last year to address the existence of more than 800 mini-casinos operating under the guise of Internet cafes in the state, appears to be gearing up to act.

The recent revelation that Ohio’s legitimate casinos are falling short of projected revenues was bound to get the attention of legislators, who are less than eager to see a $900 million hole in their expected take from the first two years of legalized casino gambling. These are the same legislators who cut funds to local schools and governments with the expectation that gambling revenues from the state’s four casinos, as well as racinos such as the one being built in Austintown, would ease the pain.

It’s not about the money

But whether the Internet cafes are responsible for the lower casino revenue is immaterial to whether or not the cafes should come under scrutiny. They should be targeted because their operation violates the Ohio Constitution, which specifically prohibits gambling. The constitution was amended to allow creation of the Ohio Lottery Commission and the various gambling options therein. Exceptions have been carved out for some gambling that benefits charity. And, most recently, Ohio voters approved the construction of four full-service casinos, one each in Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland and Toledo.

Internet cafe interests are lobbying hard to protect their operations by watering down any regulatory legislation. They instead should be doing the heavy lifting that would be necessary to make them legitimate: Put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would allow the operation of storefront slot-machine emporiums — which is what the cafes really are.

Absent such an amendment, local police departments should get the support they need from county prosecutors and the Ohio attorney general’s office to stamp out illegal and virtually unregulated storefront casinos.

Liberty police took a first step in shutting down one Belmont Avenue cafe, but there are four others in Liberty, nearly 50 others in Trumbull County and 40 in Mahoning County. Each one makes a mockery of the state’s constitution.

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