By Julie Carr Smyth
COLUMBUS: Ohio’s effective ban on storefront sweepstakes parlors is set to go into effect today, after opponents dropped their effort to pursue a ballot repeal due to a lack of signatures.
The Committee to Protect Ohio Jobs said its petition-gathering firm was unable to collect the roughly 71,000 additional valid signatures needed by Thursday’s deadline to put the repeal on the November 2014 ballot. The group technically had until midnight to hand in the names to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted after falling significantly short of the mark last month.
The committee said in a statement that it was the first to operate under Ohio’s new, more stringent signature gathering rules — and that the restrictions hampered its effort. It said the experience made a pending constitutional challenge to the new rules by the conservative 1851 Center for Constitutional Law appear justified.
“Simply put, never before has it been so difficult for Ohio citizens to place an issue on the ballot,” the group said.
The committee was still exploring the idea of challenging the law in court.
Backers of the measure — including top state law enforcement officials — say the parlors harbor illegal gambling. They have cautioned that no single law enforcement agency has authority to investigate or pursue criminal charges statewide for any illegal activity at the cafes, which they argue leaves the industry open to money laundering and other crimes.
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, a casino-backed committee fighting the repeal, said Ohioans didn’t sign the petitions because they don’t support Internet cafes in the state.
“House Bill 7 is a well-reasoned bi-partisan measure that gives law enforcement officials strong tools to fight illegal gambling and other serious criminal activity occurring at many Internet cafés,” spokesman Carlo LoParo said in a statement. “The push by café owners to halt this important law came up short because Ohioans refused to aid and abet a known criminal enterprise.”