Ohio crackdown on Internet cafes finally runs out of time
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Don’t bet on a crackdown this year on gambling operations known as Internet cafes.
The Ohio Senate won’t act before the session ends this month on a proposal that amounts to a virtual ban on the game parlors, Senate spokeswoman Angela Meleca said Tuesday.
Senate President Tom Niehaus has told his Republican caucus that he would not bring the bill to a vote, citing a lack of time to fully vet the measure, Meleca said.
The Senate aims to finish its work for the year by Thursday.
The bill was approved by a 2-to-1 margin in the House earlier this month. It would shut down nearly all of the estimated 800 sites by narrowly defining what counts as a sweepstake.
Opponents say the Internet cafe computer games that operate like slot machines with cash prizes amount to illegal gambling.
Customers pay for Internet time or phone cards and use them to bet points on computers loaded with games such as poker. Operators say they sell legitimate products with a chance to win a prize.
The announcement of the proposal’s demise this session came on the heels of a packed Senate hearing on the issue.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has led the push to get rid of the businesses. He told a Senate panel on Tuesday that the amount of cash flowing through the operations made them ripe places for money laundering, organized crime and drug dealings.
DeWine told lawmakers he preferred a ban, but he would leave the decision up to the state Legislature. “The status quo is simply unacceptable,” he added.
Opponents to the bill lined the hearing room behind DeWine. Many wore T-shirts claiming the measure would take away their jobs.
Owners and employees of Internet cafes had rallied in Cleveland on Monday, warning that forcing them out of business could cost 4,000 jobs or more.