House Bill: 7
To amend sections 109.32, 109.54, 2915.01, and 2915.02 of the Revised Code to permit the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation to investigate criminal activity related to the Gambling Law, to make changes related to schemes of chance, and to require certifications related to the conduct of a sweepstakes with the use of a sweepstakes terminal device.
The death knell has been rung for Internet cafes in the state of Ohio, and we are glad to see these storefront gambling operations come to an end.
Both the Ohio House and Ohio Senate last week passed House Bill 7 by a large margin, and with Gov. John Kasich’s pen stroke, the Internet cafes will become illegal operations and will be shut down. We have been hoping for this day to come ever since these gambling parlors came to town.
Internet cafes started popping up in inner-city neighborhoods of Cleveland and soon spread into the suburbs. In essence, they were gaming parlors disguised as legitimate businesses — some operations called themselves business centers because they offered copying and fax services to customers. In any case, customers would purchase pre-paid cards in these establishments which they were able to use on the machines inside in the hopes of winning a sweepstakes. The games did not require skill — those who won did so by chance.
To us, that sounded much like slot machines, which by law are only permitted at the four casinos and the soon-to-be seven racinos regulated by the state — not in storefronts in strip shopping centers. Yet the operators of these Internet cafes believed they were somehow complying with state gaming laws and began flooding area suburbs with requests to open these establishments. Most communities responded by enacting moratoriums on new Internet cafes until state officials rendered a legal opinion on the machines used in these operations, but ultimately there were approximately 800 Internet cafes operating in the state.
Under House Bill 7, cash prizes greater than $10 can no longer be given out at Internet cafes, which makes these destinations much less lucrative and will force them to shut down. Of course, if they consider themselves to be “business centers,” they can simply concentrate on the copying and fax services and operate as a legitimate business in that way without resorting to sweepstakes and gambling.
Attorney General Mike DeWine has made the case Internet cafes have been involved in a number of serious crimes, including illegal gambling but extending to racketeering and worse. We can agree with the illegal gambling assertions, but at least in the few operations running in the eastern communities within the Sun News coverage area, there was little evidence of more heinous activities taking place. Still, the illegal gambling is bad enough and we are glad that should no longer be an issue.
Supporters of the Internet cafes have also decried the loss of jobs that will come with the closure of these operations. We hate to see people lose their jobs, but there are plenty of jobs available in more legitimate industries that will let these people earn a decent wage with no fear the business in which they are working will be considered an illegal operation.
In the Cleveland area, the Horseshoe Casino downtown is doing a brisk business and the new ThistleDown Racino is rejuvenating what was a dying race track in North Randall. Later this year, Northfield Park will open its own racino, giving area residents three very legitimate options if they wish to partake in gambling and other entertainment options offered at these venues. There is no place for the storefront Internet cafes in this mix, especially now that they have been determined to be illegal.