Ohio Senate won't vote on Internet cafes

By Marc Kovac | R-C Capital Bureau Published:

COLUMBUS -- The Ohio Senate will not act on legislation before the end of the year that would likely shutter many of the state's sweepstakes parlors.

Senate President Tom Niehaus, a Republican from New Richmond, told reporters Tuesday there isn't enough time to deal with the issues involved before the general assembly ends its work.

"It's a very complicated bill. I do believe that it will be addressed very early in the next general assembly," Niehaus said. "But we were simply running out of time."

The decision followed two hearings of House Bill 605 before the Senate's government oversight committee, where the bill's sponsor and Attorney General Mike DeWine, a proponent, were questioned by Republicans and Democrats about the potential effects of the proposed law changes.

The legislation focuses on what have commonly been called Internet Cafes, though the businesses are not the typical coffee shops where customers go to read email or browse websites. Generally, patrons purchase phone cards upon entering, buying a chance to win sweepstakes prizes using computers set up on the premises that resemble and operate like slot machines.

HB 605 would require sweepstakes parlors to register with the attorney general's office, with additional regulations to be developed. The storefronts would be banned from offering cash payouts or merchandize prizes worth more than $10. And there would be criminal penalties against those that violate the law.

Backers of the bill admit the changes would likely lead to the closing of many of the storefronts.

The legislation prompted opposition testimony from dozens of cafe owners and concern among lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle about the impact on small businesses that have been operating legally, under some court interpretations.

They also questioned whether the law changes would make illegal sweepstakes offered by other businesses, including McDonald's.

"Initially, we believed that the bill that the House passed exempted them and made sure that they would still be able to continue," Niehaus said. "Some concerns were raised just within the last 12 hours that maybe it didn't and some changes were needed. So the danger you have at this time if you're trying to rush something through to meet an artificial deadline is that you create some unintended consequences."

He added, "I made the decision to just take a deep breath, and while I'm disappointed we didn't get this done in the lame, I am confident it can be addressed very early next year."

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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  • Shut these dam things down. They are nothing but a gambling den. I guess most of the people that would remember the gambling dens here in Ravenna have passed on. Remember what happened at the Red Parrot? We are setting ourselves up for another period in history just like then.