Now that supporters of Ohio’s network of about 800 Internet cafes have failed to collect sufficient valid signatures to place the legality of such storefront gambling parlors on next year’s election ballot, odds run high that their days of playing games with state law are numbered.
Effective Friday, House Bill 7 became the law of the land. Its clearly defined provisions should result in the closing of most – if not all – of these so-called sweepstakes parlors. Law enforcement officials throughout the Mahoning Valley should waste no time in vigilantly working to ensure that the approximately 70 such cafes that operate in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties follow the letter of the law or close their doors.
HB7, sponsored by Republican Matt Huffman and signed into law by Gov. John Kasich, limits prize payouts at the sweepstakes parlors to $10 a day, a provision essentially intended to zap their appeal among players who have won hundreds and thousands of dollars from them and to effectively drive the cafes out of business.
THE CASE AGAINST THE CAFES
As we’ve argued consistently in recent years, they should be driven out of business. Internet cafes lack all consumer protections that regulated gambling offers. Cafe owners and employees are not subject to background checks, games aren’t checked for integrity and fairness, and there are no gaming taxes .
Internet cafes divert money from churches and fraternal organizations that operate bingo and other forms of legal gambling. These groups are strictly regulated and are required to give part of their proceeds to charity.
Most importantly, the operation of Internet cafes violates the Ohio Constitution, which specifically prohibits gambling except for those enterprises that are state-regulated, such as the Ohio Lottery, casinos and racinos.
Attorney General Mike DeWine minces no words in his warning to cafe owners: “Internet sweepstakes cafes have long had operations that raised suspicions of illegal gambling. Ohio now has a law which makes clear which activities are legal and illegal in these cafes, and we will not hesitate to enforce the law. … We will be watching.”
Prosecutors and law-enforcement agencies in the Valley should heed DeWine’s call to enforce the new law promptly and aggressively.