Mounting evidence reveals the hundreds of Internet cafes and sweepstakes parlors that have cropped up across Ohio represent an illegal, unregulated, unvoted expansion of gambling. Yet, the state legislature has found it difficult to pull the plug. In the past session, a tough bill passed the House but stalled in the Senate.
Thankfully, the House has acted in the current session, recently approving, once again, the legislation of state Rep. Matt Huffman. The Lima Republican intends to put the cafes out of business by imposing strict registration and operating requirements, banning cash prizes and limiting the value of merchandise given as prizes to $10.
As the cafes and parlors continue to portray themselves as legitimate small businesses, senators should study carefully a ruling last week by the Eighth District Ohio Court of Appeals. The court upheld gambling convictions against the owners of three Cleveland cafes.
In doing so, the three-judge panel demolished the core of the cafes’ argument, that they are operating like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, the sweepstakes games intended to drive the purchase of phone cards and Internet time.
What the court found is quite the opposite: The outlets in Cleveland are selling network access so that patrons can play computerized games to win money. In other words, the product being sold is just “a clever ruse to legitimize gambling.”
Mike DeWine, the state attorney general, has called the more than 800 storefront operations “mini casinos.” The appeals court agreed, finding that the Cleveland owners “operated casino-style establishments, advertised them as such and profited from those operations.” DeWine described the ruling as “very helpful” to his efforts to crack down on the cafes.
The attorney general and local law enforcement agencies long have seen the storefronts as potential havens for consumer rip-offs, money laundering and other criminal activity. Add the solid reasoning of the appeals court, and lawmakers should have all they need to quickly pass the House bill.