(Columbus)- The Ohio Senate has voted 27-6 to approve an effective ban on so-called internet cafes. The bill now goes to Gov. John Kasich. His spokesman says he'll sign it.
Supporters of the legislation have argued that internet cafes operating throughout Ohio are basically illegal gambling operations. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has been a vocal opponent of internet cafes saying they are fronts for other crimes like money laundering. Armed with a recent court decision, DeWine has led raids on cafes in Cleveland and Mansfield.
"There's no safeguards that apply to internet cafes which leaves this industry open to a multitude of unregulated activity," said Sen. Jim Hughes, a Columbus Republican.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty says, “These 500 illegal, unregulated, corner gambling parlors have been making tens of millions of dollars by swindling their poor, elderly, and vulnerable slot players. "
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine added, "I applaud the actions of both chambers of the General Assembly to make clear the distinction between legitimate sweepstakes and the illegal gambling taking place at internet cafes across Ohio. This clarity will make it easier for local law enforcement to enforce Ohio law. I look forward to Governor Kasich signing these bills very soon."
The bill does not include an emergency provision meaning that supporters could start gathering signatures to put a repeal effort on the ballot for the November 2014 election.
Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, doesn't see the rush to crack down on the businesses. He says it hasn't gotten a lot of attention in his western Hamilton County district.
"I have not received a single letter or e-mail from any regular person in the 8th Senate District saying you have to drop everything and ban internet cafes," he said.
He said the single biggest flaw in the bill is the "shoot 'em all and let God sort it out" mentality of shutting all of the businesses down just because of a couple bad operators.
Seitz said a provision in the bill requiring at least half of all patrons actually use the phone or internet cards for their intended purposes is ridiculous.
"What are they do to? Have all of their customers fill out an affidavit, 'I swear on penalty of perjury that I'm going to use this hamburger, this phone card, this internet time, this magazine?'"
Cafe owners and staff told lawmakers votes that the ban would jeopardize their livelihoods and their ability to feed their families. There are an estimated 6,000 - 8,000 employees that work at internet cafes.
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