In April, legislators passed a rewrite of Ohio’s gambling laws, but deferred action on a separate bill to bring under state control a fast-growing alternative to state-regulated games, Internet cafes and sweepstakes parlors. Instead, the broader gambling bill included a moratorium on new storefront parlors, which sell phone cards and Internet time to play sweepstakes games on machines that resemble video slot machines.
At the time, the office of Attorney General Mike DeWine estimated that 280 storefront parlors were in operation, most in Northern Ohio. As part of the moratorium, owners were required to file an affidavit so that an accurate count could be compiled. Last week, the dismaying results were released by the attorney general.
The count showed 772 Internet cafes and sweepstakes parlors in operation, more than half in Northeast Ohio. That’s probably more machines than are now in operation at two casinos and the Scioto Downs racetrack. In Summit County, where the County Council passed regulations two years ago at the request of townships, 27 storefront parlors are in operation. The county recorded 11 storefront parlors in the townships as of April.
DeWine’s renewed call for statewide regulations is well-founded. Ohio has moved rapidly to embrace expanded gambling, voters approving in 2009 a constitutional amendment to allow a total of four casinos, the state then following with approval for seven horse racetracks to add video lottery terminals. Permitting Internet cafes and sweepstakes parlors to escape statewide regulation means uncontrolled growth of operations many law enforcement agencies consider illegal.
The recent statistics hammer home the danger in a continuation of a patchwork of local regulations, storefront parlors escaping oversight by moving into another jurisdiction. The necessary regulations must come from the state and include licensing, state-approved vendors and posting odds. The number of storefront parlors also should be regulated, and payouts limited.
These ideas have been under discussion for more than two years. The attorney general’s report shows clearly the danger in further delay.