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A sweepstakes parlor, or Internet café, gives away chances to win prizes with the use of Internet access. Ohio has more than 800 such mini-casinos.
They also are popular in the South, where their owners have been able to amass enough money to buy political influence. In Florida, an influence-peddling scandal involving the cafés has led to calls for their abolition.
Defenders say Internet cafés are benign businesses that create jobs. Critics call them pernicious, claiming they exploit old and poor people and escape regulation. Profits from these places often seem to wind up in the hands of Ukrainian gangsters.
A better question might be: Are Internet cafés legal? Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says they are not. He has launched a crusade against the cafés, creating a special unit to work with state and local police to investigate and shut down these enterprises.
Mr. DeWine says he is empowered by a recent state appeals court ruling that held that some cafés are simply illegal gambling houses, or fronts for them.
“In our office, we always believed these places were illegal,” he says. “Now we’re armed with a court decision that makes that crystal clear.”
Last month, the Ohio House passed legislation that would cap prizes at Internet cafés at $10 and outlaw cash giveaways. That would probably shut down most of the cafés. The state Senate is in no hurry to take up the bill.
But neither Mr. DeWine nor the justice system is waiting for the General Assembly. Last week, a grand jury in Cuyahoga County indicted 11 people who operate Internet cafés on charges of racketeering and money laundering.
The attorney general argues that if Ohioans want to gamble, they need to do it at a legal, adequately regulated establishment. If someone wants to open a casino, he or she must do it within the confines of the law.
In essence, Mr. DeWine is doing our lawmakers’ job for them. But he is also doing his own job: protecting the public from fraud. Good for him.