CLEVELAND: Chad Price doesn’t mind the state wanting to regulate Internet cafes and sweepstakes parlors.
But Price, a consultant and owner of Dusk ’Til Dawn in Northfield, doesn’t want to see state lawmakers pass onerous legislation that would run them out of business.
“The industry absolutely should be regulated,” he said Monday. “We’ve been trying to get it regulated for five years rather than shutting down all these jobs.”
Price was one of about 80 people who attended a rally and news conference at the DoubleTree by Hilton in downtown Cleveland to knock state legislation they say would wipe out their industry and put about 4,000 Ohioans out of work at Christmas. Participants held signs that read: “The government shouldn’t tell me how to spend my money” and “Regulate don’t eliminate.”
The protest was over House Bill 605, which the Ohio House approved last week. The Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee is expected to discuss the bill today.
The bill would require the businesses to be licensed through the attorney general’s office, which would be tasked with developing specific regulations and setting a registration fee. The proposal also would limit prizes to $10 or less — a move that would take away the attraction now of possibly winning thousands in cash.
Owners complained the proposal is being rushed through the legislature while a regulatory bill they helped craft, House Bill 195, was shoved aside.
Democratic state Reps. Kenny Yuko of Richmond Heights and Bill Patmon of Cleveland spoke at the rally and defended the industry.
Yuko noted that small communities already regulate the businesses and are relying on the revenue generated from licensing fees. Patmon questioned the state’s interest given its oversight of and revenue from casinos and racinos.
“Government should not pick winners or losers,” Patmon said. “That’s not our business. We should provide an atmosphere for growth and progress.
“If it’s OK for the state of Ohio, it’s OK for Rock Gaming — yes I said that — it ought to be OK for the small-business person in the neighborhoods who’s creating jobs and who’s creating an opportunity for senior citizens and others to do business.”
Yuko and others said they would like to see lawmakers get together early next year to work on a compromise.
“Ohioans firing Ohioans is not the Ohio thing to do. Not before Christmas,” said Bryan Sanshuck, a consultant and owner-operator of Mega Play Cafe in Richmond Heights. “Let’s focus, take our time, step back two feet and sit down at the drawing table and work this out together.”
He added that there would be vacant storefronts throughout Ohio if the bill were approved.
Similar to casinos
Counties and local communities have been asking state lawmakers for years to regulate the industry, which has had a shadowy reputation among law enforcement officials.
The businesses are set up like mini casinos inside, and often sell Internet time or phone cards. People who buy those services then can play games and win money on machines that look like video slots.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has called them “a rip-off to Ohio consumers” because, unlike casinos and racinos, there’s no oversight of how much money is paid out.
DeWine said Monday he supports both House Bill 605 and House Bill 195. What’s important, he said, is that lawmakers take some action.
Ohio needs either to banish the businesses or to regulate them, but cannot do nothing and allow the problem to continue for law enforcement, he said.
The American Gaming Association released a critical report entitled Internet Sweepstakes Cafes: Unregulated Storefront Gambling in the Neighborhood in October. It estimated that nationwide the businesses “earn more than $10 billion a year with games that closely mimic the experience of traditional slot and video poker machines.”
The unregulated businesses don’t pay gambling taxes and “are free of the legal restraints that Americans have traditionally demanded for gambling businesses,” the report says.
Irritated at the lack of statewide regulations, many Ohio communities started regulating and collecting fees from the businesses on their own.
The attorney general’s office estimates there are 819 Internet cafes scattered throughout Ohio, including 28 in Summit County.
Price, the Dusk ’Til Dawn owner, said the industry isn’t afraid of regulation.
“Everything is documented in a legitimate sweepstakes room,” he said. “It helps out the industry as well and gets the shadow out from on top of it. It’s truly a legitimate business.”
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.