Ohio lawmakers advance Internet cafe crackdown
Written by JULIE CARR SMYTH, AP Statehouse Correspondent   
Wednesday, 22 May 2013 06:30

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio state lawmakers moved boldly Tuesday against storefront sweepstakes parlors they have come to view as illegal gambling operations, advancing separate bills effectively banning the operations statewide and blocking startups until the ban takes hold.

The Senate State Government Oversight committee overwhelmingly approved the ban over the objections of a room crowded with employees and owners of so-called Internet cafes, who said a statewide crackdown would leave them jobless and unable to feed their families.

Chairman Dave Burke said he had sympathy for the witnesses but still saw the bill as necessary.

"The situation that's going on in those facilities is baffling," said Burke, a Marysville Republican. "I'm obviously compassionate for what these folks are doing, but passion and compassion doesn't make it legal."

About 800 of the cafes are in operation across the state, representing growing competition to legalized casinos and games held for charity.

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.

Proponents have strenuously disagreed that Internet cafes are illegal, a position intermittently undercut by the courts.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine calls the cafes illegal gambling operations. He has sued three facilities that failed to file affidavits after the 2012 moratorium took effect and staged raids of facilities in Cuyahoga and Richland counties.

DeWine led the charge for the legislative crackdown, joining other top state law enforcers at a pivotal caucus meeting with Senate Republicans last month that helped reverse members' earlier opposition.

Senate President Keith Faber introduced a bill extending a statewide moratorium on new startups after that meeting.

Having already passed the Senate, that measure cleared a House committee Tuesday without debate. The bill also requires the facilities to file an updated, more thorough affidavit with the state.

Both bills are headed to likely floor passage Wednesday then on to Gov. John Kasich.

State Sen. Shirley Smith, a Cleveland Democrat who voted against the ban, said she felt the issue needed to be studied more extensively.

"We did not really treat the people who own the cafes fairly, considering that the Internet cafes have been open for years," she said. "We should have addressed that issue some years ago, but now we have people who are employed, people who are taking care of their families. ... So now we're going to take all that from them."

Burke said lawmakers spent ample time studying the issue.

"People have had to come to speed with what's going on and formulate an opinion about it. That's happened," he said.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.


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