Last week, the Ohio Senate voted to extend the moratorium on the opening and expansion of Internet sweepstakes cafés. Now it’s past time for lawmakers to take the next step: closing the existing gambling parlors for good.
Internet cafés give away chances to win prizes with the use of Internet access. They are basically unlicensed gambling establishments. They exploit the old and the poor. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and the state Court of Appeals have said the cafés are illegal.
The moratorium buys senators time to decide what they want to do about the cafés. Best case: Support could built in the Senate for a House-passed bill that would effectively put Internet cafés out of business. Worst case: The Senate delays until that legislation dies.
Senate Republicans say they want to take a broad look at all legal gambling in Ohio. That sounds like a stall: There is no need for this big-picture approach. The Internet cafés are a specific problem and the House bill is a specific remedy.
The bill prohibits cash payouts from sweepstakes machines and caps the dollar value of noncash prizes at $10. In effect, it would kill Internet cafés.
Some lawmakers now suggest that the issue should go on the ballot for Ohioans to decide. That simply ducks the question as well. If legislators can’t legislate on a matter that is so clear-cut, what purpose do they serve?
There is a lot of money behind the Internet café lobby. This is a lobby a lawmaker does not necessarily want to offend or help to obliterate. But that does not provide Ohio lawmakers with an excuse not to legislate for the public good.
The General Assembly is on the threshold of a solid public-policy decision. The Senate needs to follow the House and kill the cafés. Just get it done.
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