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Sweepstakes cafe in S. Toledo may be forced to close

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An Internet sweepstakes cafe in South Toledo may soon have to close after operating for about two years without the proper zoning.

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Jackpot Palace, on Holland-Sylvania Road south of Bancroft in west Toledo, Ohio on September 10, 2018. The current sweepstakes terminal cafe operating at this location has a new owner and needs a zone change in order to continue to operate. About 60 residents support this change, but others oppose it. City council will weigh in on the issue Wednesday.

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Jamal Shaheen and his father Nabil Shaheen operate three Internet cafes in Toledo and recently purchased Jackpot Palace at 2104 N. Holland Sylvania Rd. to add to their business portfolio. But when they inquired about transferring the license required to operate such an establishment into their name, they were told the business should not have been open in the first place.

Toledo City Council on Wednesday will discuss whether to change the commercial zoning classification to allow the Jackpot Palace to stay or to side with the Toledo Plan Commission and turn down the Shaheens’ request. Internet cafes allow people to log on to a computer terminal and play games of chance similar to slots.

Attorney Paula Hicks-Hudson, who is representing Jamal Shaheen, told plan commission officials last month that her client has established a reputation as a businessman who operates legitimately and is trying to become compliant with the rules.

“He unfortunately thought the person he was purchasing the business from was of the same caliber. Now, he has paid for a business that he cannot operate,” she said. “We’re standing here before you to ask for the proper land use.”

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The plan commission ultimately voted 3-2 to recommend that city council keep the site’s zoning the way it is, but not after hearing arguments for both sides. Officials received 13 post cards asking them to keep Internet cafes out of their neighborhood, while 60 people signed a petition in favor of granting the zone-change request.

“I’m in support of this establishment because I like going there. It’s a friendly place,” said Rowena Days, who frequents Jackpot Palace at least twice a week. “I use it for entertainment, relaxing when I get off of work.”

She added that she has never witnessed any violence nor heard of any complaints about the cafe.

Rocleen Reihing disagrees. She’s president of the volunteer organization Reynolds Corners Community Development and said neighbors do complain about the business. If people want to play a game of chance, they can go to Hollywood Casino Toledo, she said.

“It does encourage gambling, and gambling does destroy families,” she said. “We can’t save the world, but we don’t need this kind of stuff in the neighborhoods.”

Ms. Reihing also expressed concern about the precedent it could set if city council votes to allow Jackpot Palace to remain open.

“If they OK that one, then another one comes in,” she said. “They have to create some boundaries.”

Nabil Shaheen said he was surprised to learn Jackpot Palace had been operating illegally before he bought it. He said because it had been open for nearly a year and a half he believed it was in compliance with all regulations, including zoning.

Toledo City Council recently learned that 10 of the city’s 13 Internet sweepstakes cafes are unlicensed, and city officials are working to either bring them into compliance or shut them down. Council voted to tighten restrictions on the businesses, requiring all new cafes to apply for a special-use permit in addition to acquiring the proper licensing.

Council President Matt Cherry represents District 2, where the cafe is located. He said he is neutral on the issue and is waiting to hear arguments for and against the zoning change.

“In most cases these are small businesses, so we have to look at it that way, but we also can’t set precedent to just do this because someone sold him a business that was in the wrong commercial zoning,” Mr. Cherry said. “We’ll hear the case on Wednesday and we’ll go from there.”

Contact Sarah Elms at selms@theblade.com419-724-6103, or on Twitter @BySarahElms.

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