Despite strong consensus among local officials, law enforcement agencies and the Ohio attorney general’s office to regulate them, sweepstakes parlors for too long have escaped state oversight. Legislators did enact a moratorium, as part of an overall gambling bill, in April, but regulations stalled. By that time, more than 800 sweepstakes parlors were up and running.
Last week came welcome signs of likely action in the lame-duck session. Matt Huffman, the House majority leader, introduced legislation that would place sweepstakes gambling under the control of the Ohio Lottery Commission. The bill calls for the commission to adopt rules that would ban the kind of Internet-based wagering that takes place in the storefront parlors, in which patrons buy phone cards or Internet time to play sweepstakes games on devices that look like electronic slot machines.
This week, the Fraternal Order of Police weighed in, urging action in a letter to Gov. John Kasich and Mike DeWine, the state attorney general. DeWine long has urged a crackdown, the storefront operations subject merely to spotty local rules, the lack of a comprehensive approach amounting to an invitation to rip-offs, money laundering and other illegal activities.
Also awaiting action is a bill that would bring the sweepstakes parlors under the Ohio Casino Control Commission, requiring licensing, posting of odds and purchases from state-approved vendors, even limits on the number of electronic machines in each county.
What DeWine and the state FOP don’t support is continuing to do nothing. Either bill, or a blend of both, is preferable to more foot-dragging. DeWine rightly emphasizes that the sweepstakes parlors are ripe for organized crime.
Legislators are well aware of the problem and the possible solutions. In addition to DeWine and local officials, representatives of the heavily regulated casino and racino businesses are adding their voices to bring unregulated gambling under control, pointing to the unfair competition.
The lame-duck session provides the right opportunity to take up this piece of unfinished business, putting either a ban or a comprehensive regulatory framework in place to deal with a disorderly and dangerous development.