Its resolve stiffened by growing concern over an estimated 800, largely unregulated, sweepstakes parlors across the state, the Ohio House took the correct step Wednesday. On a 60-30 vote, members passed a bill that would effectively ban the storefront operations, which law enforcement agencies view as fronts for illegal gambling.
Just last week, the House seemed to prefer a different route for dealing with the sweepstakes parlors, one that would allow many to continue in business, subject to state regulations and taxation. With a one-year moratorium on new sweepstakes parlors set to expire in June, there was broad consensus the state had to take control of the situation in some way, rather than allow an ineffective patchwork of local regulations to continue.
Mike DeWine, the state attorney general, police organizations and county prosecutors presented a united front against the parlors, joined by local officials, veterans organizations and representatives from the casino industry.
“This is hard-core gambling,” DeWine said in testimony in support of the ban. He and others correctly fear that the parlors, in which patrons buy Internet time or phone cards to play sweepstakes games on electronic devices that resemble slot machines, invite consumer rip-offs, money laundering and other illegal activities.
The sweepstakes ban, introduced by Matt Huffman, the House majority leader, rewrites the Ohio Revised Code to regulate sweepstakes parlors out of business. Among other provisions, the bill would outlaw cash prizes and cap the value of merchandise prizes at $10.
The Ohio Senate should quickly pass the legislation. The issue has been debated for more than a year, with ample testimony from DeWine and others about the dangers inherent in an unvoted, unauthorized expansion of gambling in a state that already has casinos, a lottery and electronic slot machines at horse racetracks.
Proponents of a looser regulatory framework see the parlors as sources of jobs and tax revenue. Those arguments ignore the grave risks associated with gambling, and how unreliable it is as an economic development tool.