The Ohio Senate’s go-slow approach to Internet cafes and sweepstakes parlors turned glacial this week. Dave Burke, the Marysville Republican who chairs the State Government Oversight & Reform Committee, said his goal is to pass legislation by the end of next year — yes, 2014 — despite growing concerns that the storefront operations are havens for illegal gambling.
Burke’s announcement followed comments late last month by state Sen. Bill Coley, a Butler County Republican. He chairs the legislature’s Permanent Joint Committee on Gaming and Wagering. He indicated Senate action to regulate the storefronts would wait until July, or until the committee concluded a comprehensive overview of gambling.
Fortunately, Mike DeWine has stepped up, the state attorney general announcing Wednesday that he will help local prosecutors, sheriffs and police departments file cases to put Internet cafes and sweepstakes parlors out of business.
DeWine said he decided to act because of the Senate’s delay in taking up a strong, House-passed bill. That legislation would shut down the more than 800 Internet cafes and sweepstakes parlors through strict regulations that would, among other things, ban cash prizes. The House, on bipartisan votes, has passed the bill twice. Its first action came late last year, the Senate letting the bill die. Earlier this year, the House acted again.
Also bolstering DeWine’s decision was a solid, clearly worded opinion last month from the Eighth District Ohio Court of Appeals that upheld the convictions of three cafe owners from Cleveland for illegal gambling. The court saw through the legal fiction that sweepstakes games are offered merely as inducements to buy phone cards or Internet time. The court found that the real business of the storefront operations is gambling.
The parlors and cafes now in operation have more electronic machines (they look like electronic slot machines) than the 8,000 slots approved for the four Ohio casinos. DeWine is right: It is time to put an end to an unvoted, unauthorized, illegal expansion of gambling.