After months of unnecessary delay, the legislature made quick work Wednesday of a controversial bill to shut down sweepstakes parlors. Also sent to the governor’s desk was a companion measure extending for one year a moratorium on new parlors. The extension was needed because an existing moratorium expires on June 30, before the ban goes into effect.
Last year, the House correctly assessed the need to crack down on the storefront operations, which law enforcement agencies regard as illegal gambling operations. The Senate stalled, and the ban died. In March, in a new legislative session, the House again passed the ban, but Senate leaders said they wanted time to study the parlors, even to review all types of gambling in the state.
What finally pushed the Senate to act? Persuasive testimony from Mike DeWine, the state attorney general, and others that the parlors create too many opportunities for money laundering and other criminal activities. That overcame arguments from the industry the storefronts are merely mom-and-pop operations, employing thousands and offering convenience to patrons not close to Ohio’s four casinos or seven horse tracks.
John Kasich will sign both bills, but, unfortunately, the governor’s signatures may not bring the matter to a final resolution. Although the ban passed the Senate on a vote of 27-6, it lacked an emergency clause. That opens a 90-day window for the sweepstakes parlors to gather signatures for a referendum. If a signature drive is successful, it would put the ban on hold until next year’s general election, when voters would get their say.
Keith Faber, the Senate president, argued that he didn’t have a two-thirds majority to pass the ban with an emergency clause, which would prevent a referendum. Lamely, he blamed minority Democrats, even though Republicans hold 23 seats. That leaves the distinct impression of a majority caucus trying to have it both ways.
Wednesday’s vote gives the appearance of getting tough on illegal gambling, but the lack of an emergency clause leaves the door open to the possibility, if the ban is rejected by voters, of regulating the parlors — and reaping contributions from a lucrative industry with more than 600 outlets. The better course would have been to muster the votes to end once and for all an unregulated, unvoted expansion of gambling.