By Marc Kovac
Attorney General Mike DeWine wasted little time informing the owners of 600-plus sweepstakes parlors about new registration requirements that took effect earlier this week.
The days likely are numbered for many of those so-called Internet cafes, with Gov. John Kasich poised to sign additional legislation that backers expect will lead to the shuttering of the majority of the storefronts.
The two bills moved through the legislature on a fast track over the past month after DeWine began cracking down on the businesses, raiding a number of the locations and working with local prosecutors on criminal charges.
Multiple bills were introduced over the past several years addressing the businesses, where patrons purchase phone cards upon entering, buying a chance to win sweepstakes prizes and using computers that resemble slot machines to find out if they’ve won.
Opponents believe the businesses have found a way to skirt state law and constitutional provisions to offer unregulated gambling, though proponents say the businesses are doing nothing illegal and are no different than sweepstakes games offered by retailers such as McDonald’s.
The Ohio House moved bills last session and earlier this year that would effectively ban sweepstakes parlors from operating as-is.
Those bills stalled in the Ohio Senate until late last month, when Republican leaders indicated they would move legislation in short order to address their operation.
An initial bill, SB 115, extended a moratorium on the opening of new parlors and instituted new registration requirements, enabling DeWine’s office to gather more uniform details of the businesses’ ownership and operations.
Kasich signed the bill into law Tuesday under an emergency clause, meaning it took effect as soon as he signed it.
On Wednesday, DeWine sent letters to known parlors, informing them of the new requirements, which included providing the names of business owners, vendors and employees, federal tax identification numbers and details of any felony or gambling-related convictions.
The deadline for filing is June 27.
“I thank Gov. Kasich and the General Assembly for keeping and strengthening this moratorium as we prepare for House Bill 7 to become effective,” DeWine said in a press releases.
House Bill 7 is separate legislation that would ban cash payouts or merchandize prizes worth more than $10, with additional language added to ensure other businesses could continue to offer sweepstakes contests.