Ohio House passes measure that is likely to close down Internet cafes

by Marc kovac | Capital Bureau Chief Published:

COLUMBUS -- The Ohio House passed legislation Dec. 5 that would regulate sweepstakes parlors, likely putting many of them out of business in the process.

The vote was 63-30, sending House Bill 605 to the Ohio Senate for further consideration and setting up a potential final vote before the end of the session.

"Despite the fact that sweepstakes are continued to be allowed and sweepstakes parlors, this will in essence for many of these, especially the large operations, [they] no longer [are] going to operate in the state if this bill in its present form ultimately becomes law," said Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima. "I want to be clear about that."

The bill was on a fast track, with an initial hearing Dec. 4 and final committee action Dec. 5, following a recess in the day's session.

The legislation will require sweepstakes parlors to register with the attorney general's office, with additional regulations to be developed. The storefronts will be banned from offering cash payouts or merchandize prizes worth more than $10. And there will be criminal penalties against those that violate the law.

Huffman said the sweepstakes business that has sprouted in Ohio "smells like gambling, looks like gambling... If it's acting like gambling, we need to treat it that way."

The proposed law changes will provide clarity and clear information for use by law enforcement, he said.

Republicans and Democrats voted in favor of the bill. Rep. Dennis Murray, D-Sandusky, was among them, saying the state constitution, which limits legal gambling to the state lottery and four casinos.

"That's it," he said. "One could not sit through the testimony that we heard and not conclude that Internet cafes are simply gambling by another name."

But a couple of other Democratic lawmakers voiced opposition, questioning how the legislation would affect local governments and jobs.

"I talked to a number of my mayors, and they told me that it's been smooth sailing, they haven't had any problems," said Rep. Matt Lundy, D-Elyria. "They've also told me that it's helped to generate some additional revenue for their communities, and let's face it, they're not getting a lot of revenue from us these days."

Rep. Kenny Yuko, D-Cleveland, added, "If we have a problem here, if we have something that we believe that isn't right, let's fix it. Don't abolish it. Don't make it so difficult that we can't keep these people working."

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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