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Published: Thursday, 11/29/2012

Ban Internet cafés

Ohio does not need a storefront gambling parlor on every street corner and in every strip mall

With apologies to William Shakespeare, a gambling parlor by any other name would still smell like a cheat, and should be banned.

Internet cafés, where online sweepstakes with predetermined winners occupy a gray area between gaming and gambling, have sprung up across Ohio. More than 800 cafés, including 49 in Lucas County, have registered with Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office.

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Online sweepstakes were not included in the constitutional amendment Ohioans approved in 2009 to allow casino gambling in Toledo and three other Ohio cities. Nor was it included in the amendments that created the Ohio Lottery in 1973 and charitable bingo in 1975.

Owners of these enterprises claim they run innocent contests, an opinion shared in 2010 by a Toledo Municipal Court judge. But they look more like unregulated gambling, in which owners don’t have to tell players the odds of winning.

Some sweepstakes parlors have been raided and closed for illegal payouts. Police fear they will increase the crime rate in neighborhoods where they operate.

Most Internet cafés are in business to make their owners rich. In Ohio, it’s estimated to be a $1 billion business, much of it diverted from regulated casino gambling, whose profits benefit local governments and schools. But some are run by nonprofits such as churches, where they have replaced bingo, a real game of chance.

Because of the lack of state regulation, Toledo City Council passed an ordinance last summer that requires Internet cafés to obtain a city license and pay a fee for each computer terminal. The state also has imposed a moratorium on new cafés until mid-2013, to stop the proliferation until lawmakers can decide what to do about them.

Rossford and other communities have set rules to govern the shady businesses. But a hodgepodge of local regulations is not the answer. Nor are state laws that stop short of banning the cafés.

Rep. Matt Huffman (R., Lima) has introduced a bill he says would put Internet cafés out of business. Lame-duck lawmakers in Columbus appear eager to help. But there’s concern that the bill will subject Web-based sweepstakes to regulation rather than the outright ban preferred by Mr. DeWine, the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, and the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police.

Mr. Huffman’s bill should not give Internet cafés a second life under some dubious lottery designation. They should be banned. Ohio does not need a storefront gambling parlor on every street corner and in every strip mall.



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