By Julie Carr Smyth
COLUMBUS: Opponents of a state law that effectively bans storefront sweepstakes parlors fell far short Monday of the signatures needed to place a repeal request on the November 2014 ballot.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted found only 160,000 of the nearly 434,000 signatures submitted by the Committee to Protect Ohio Jobs were valid. That’s 71,000 fewer than the required 231,000.
The group has 10 days to submit additional signatures, and it pledged to take full advantage of that time. Spokesman Matt Dole said the group will dispatch hundreds of signature-gatherers beginning Tuesday.
“Nearly every statewide initiative in Ohio falls short of the signatures necessary on the first try, which is exactly why the law allows a 10-day period to gather more,” he said in a statement. “Luckily, since polling shows 80 percent of Ohioans oppose banning Internet Sweepstakes Cafes, there are many people willing to sign.”
At the storefronts, patrons buy cards for phone and Internet time with chances to play computer games that operate like slot machines with cash prizes.
If enough signatures can be gathered, enforcement of the law would be suspended until next November’s vote. In the interim, the so-called Internet cafes could operate in the state.
Foes of the crackdown say the law went too far in limiting activity at the parlors, many of which they describe as mom-and-pop operations that provide jobs in local communities.
Ohioans Against Illegal Gambling, which is backed by casinos, had urged county elections boards to carefully scrutinize the signatures. The group has claimed that signature gatherers misrepresented the referendum’s purpose.
Spokesman Carlo LoParo said the state’s effective ban passed both chambers of the state Legislature with bipartisan support and was backed by Attorney General Mike DeWine, county prosecutors and local police. He accused Internet cafe backers of intentionally trying to deceive elections boards with their petitions.
“It looks like Internet cafe operatives created voters out of thin air because Ohioans wanted no part of these illegal gambling houses,” he said in a statement. “Submitting more than 270,000 invalid signatures is no honest mistake.”
Husted’s office said the group was required to collect a certain percentage of signatures in at least 44 counties but met the threshold in only 12 counties. Husted spokesman Matt McClellan said signatures are considered invalid if they are duplicates, are collected in the wrong county or come from non-registered voters, among other reasons.