Ohio Senate essentially kills Internet cafe bill


COLUMBUS — The rush to enact a law cracking down on Internet “sweepstakes” cafes that critics argue are really gambling dens in disguise ran into a wall today in the Ohio Senate.

The upper chamber announced via Twitter that it will not take up a bill that would all but put the cafes out of business before the chamber brings the current lame-duck session to a close later this week.

Efforts to ban or regulate the businesses will have to start the legislative process all over again in the next two-year legislative session in January while a moratorium on the opening of new cafes or expansion of existing ones remains in place through July 30.

“While I am disappointed that the Ohio Senate will not consider House Bill 605 this session, the hearings that were held in the past few weeks have been helpful in bringing the issues associated with Internet cafes to the forefront,” said state Attorney General Mike DeWine, a major critic of the businesses.

“I'm optimistic that the momentum on this issue will continue, and the new General Assembly will act early next year," he said.

The Internet cafes essentially sell long-distance phone or Internet time via cards that are preprogrammed with potential prize winnings. Buyers can use points on the cards to play games on computerized machines that critics argue look and act a lot like slot machines. Slot machines or slots-like video lottery terminals are legal in Ohio only in its four voter-approved casinos or legislatively approved racetrack slots parlors.

House Bill 605, which passed the House last week, would ban all cash payouts and prohibit any non-cash prizes worth more than $10. Backers of the bill believe that this would largely cause the market for the phone cards to dry up.