By Marc Kovac
Attorney General Mike DeWine says his office will be ready to help local prosecutors shut down sweepstakes parlors, barring a ballot initiative to stop a new state law from taking effect in September.
“They’re not going to all go away overnight,” he said. “But we’ll get rid of them pretty quickly.”
Earlier this month, Gov. John Kasich signed into law House Bill 7, which backers believe will effectively shutter most of the Internet cafes operating in the state. The bill bans cash payouts, caps prize values at $10 and requires increased registration and oversight of the storefronts.
The bill-signing came about a week after Kasich finalized separate legislation extending a moratorium on existing parlors and requiring updated egistrations with DeWine’s office. The attorney general subsequently sent letters to the owners of 600-plus known cafes notifying them of the deadline for the paperwork later this month.
Proponents of the law changes say sweepstakes parlors are skirting state law and constitutional provisions to offer unregulated gambling.
But cafe owners and industry interests oppose the bills and have indicated they will pursue an initiative to place the law changes before voters, a move that could delay the legislation’s effective date.
A new group, the “Committee to Protect Ohio Jobs,” said Monday that it would work to place the issue on the ballot in November 2014.
It has about 90 days to collect nearly 250,000 petition signatures to accomplish that task.
“Every concern raised about Internet sweepstakes cafes can be resolved by reasonable regulation, rather than a ban,” Richard Bonde, a Willowick man involved in the effort, said in a released statement. “With public polling showing that only 20 percent of Ohioans support prohibiting Internet Sweepstakes Cafes, it’s only right that the voters have the final say on this issue.”
He added, “The right to vote on such things is fundamental, and we expect to be successful.”
DeWine said his office would “see what happens” with the petition drive.
“The Internet cafe industry has said that they are going to do everything they can to get this on the ballot,” DeWine said. “If they get the appropriate signatures, it would mean that the law would not go into effect in 90 days.”
He added, “If the law does, in fact, go into effect, it’s going to be relatively easy to enforce. I would anticipate that we would be able [to shut down parlors] fairly quickly.”