State lawmakers are struggling with whether to ban or regulate the sweepstakes parlors that have cropped up across Ohio. There are more than 800, regulated locally, if at all, the piecemeal approach an invitation to rip-offs, money laundering and other illegal activities.
For some 18 months, the debate has continued, now into the lame-duck session, despite strong opposition to the parlors from local officials, law enforcement agencies, the state attorney general’s office and state-authorized gambling outlets, which are heavily regulated.
The best course would be a ban, ending what amounts to an unauthorized, unvoted expansion of gambling. Ohio already permits charitable gaming, casinos and the state lottery, under whose authority electronic slot machines operate at horse racing tracks. In the sweepstakes parlors, patrons purchase Internet time or phone cards to win cash playing games on electronic machines that closely resemble slot machines.
For its part, the Ohio House took up a bill last week that would bar Internet-based sweepstakes games. Unfortunately, it still would allow an unlimited number of sweepstakes parlors to operate, using in-house software, under the control of the Ohio Lottery Commission. Local governments could enact bans, lawmakers ignoring the ineffectiveness when parlors crop up just over the line.
Legislators appeared swayed by testimony about jobs and tax revenues generated by the parlors, but ran into objections from veterans organizations, who fear the competition. The bill stalled, but it is expected to be discussed this week.
Far preferable is a more aggressive measure, sponsored by Matt Huffman, the House majority leader. His approach is more straightforward. First, the measure would place sweepstakes parlors under the control of the state lottery. Then, it would regulate the parlors out of business.
With voter approval of four casinos and the lottery’s expansion into horse racetracks, experts warn of a super-saturated gambling market. It is past time to bring the explosion of sweepstakes parlors under control with, at the least, statewide regulations that limit the number of outlets and provide for licenses, inspections, background checks and strict cash accounting.