Café society


New state laws promise to rid the Toledo area and the rest of Ohio of the plague of hundreds of unregulated — and arguably illegal — gambling minicasinos, called “Internet cafés” or “sweepstakes parlors.” But not so fast, thanks to a lethargic (at best) General Assembly.

The overdue measures that lawmakers sent Gov. John Kasich, who signed them last week, would effectively ban Internet cafés and prevent new ones from opening. Yet lawmakers did not declare a public emergency that would have enabled the ban to take effect immediately.

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That lapse gives Ohio’s well-financed Internet café industry time to collect petition signatures from registered voters to place the legislation on a statewide ballot, allowing Ohioans to affirm or repeal it. This week, an industry group proposed language for the referendum.

If the petition effort succeeds, the vote likely would not occur until November, 2014. The ban would not take effect in the meantime, allowing the cafés to continue to operate.

Why did lawmakers opt for the delay? They may not be ready just yet to deny themselves the generous campaign contributions of the Ohio Internet café industry and its out of state vendors.

Some legislators parrot the industry’s line that the highly profitable cafés contribute jobs and tax revenue. They don’t address what else the thinly disguised slots parlors can provide — such as a venue for money laundering.

The Blade has opposed previous legislative efforts to limit Ohioans’ ability to place initiatives and referenda on the ballot. Internet café operators can’t be denied that opportunity simply because they represent an unsavory industry, and sometimes are less than solid citizens.

It’s unclear whether Ohio voters have grown so enamored of legal gambling that they would repeal the ban on Internet cafés. The owners of Ohio’s four legal casinos (one of them in Toledo) and horse racetracks, as well as charities that operate bingo nights and similar events, would be expected to campaign for voter approval of the law. Law enforcement officials, led by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, also want to close the Internet cafés now.

Lawmakers could have eliminated the ambiguity in the new laws by specifying immediate effect for them. But out of whatever murky motivation, they didn’t.

Even if Internet cafés are as legal as their owners and operators claim — and court rulings diverge on the matter — they too often accommodate criminal activity and prey on residents of low-income neighborhoods. Our state doesn’t need them.

Once again, then, Ohio voters are expected to do necessary work that feckless state lawmakers refused to do. What else is new?