As Internet cafe supporters move to overturn a recently passed bill designed to kill off the industry, the Ohio Senate yesterday moved quickly to pass a new ban that would kill the gambling operations in a different way and prevent an effort to overturn the law.
If approved by the House, the new proposal would put an end to Internet cafes in Ohio by banning operations that give out prizes exceeding 5 percent of gross receipts. It also would include an emergency clause, meaning it takes effect immediately and is not subject to a referendum.
If approved, the new bill would negate the ongoing effort to place a prior Internet cafe ban on the November 2014 ballot. Even if cafe supporters were successful in overturning the prior bill, which limits cash payouts on sweepstakes machines to $10, the new bill would still make the businesses illegal.
"We still believe Ohioans should have a say on this important issue," said Mark Weaver, spokesman for the Committee to Protect Ohio Jobs, the coalition of Internet cafe supporters working to collect the signatures needed to put the prior bill on the 2014 ballot.
Weaver said the committee is still examining what the new bill would mean to the referendum effort.
Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, who had suggested such a gross receipts approach in the spring before instead passing the House-approved measure in late May, said the bill will make sure it targets gambling operations and not legitimate sweepstakes games used by retailers.
"We thought this was a good approach to make sure we get to these entities in an absolute, sure way," Faber said of the proposal, which was attached to a bill dealing with money-laundering investigations in Ohio casinos.
The latest bill has the backing of Attorney General Mike DeWine, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien and state Public Safety Director Thomas P. Charles.
"Without an emergency clause, these operations will remain largely unregulated until possibly November 2014, and as a law enforcement official that causes me concern," DeWine wrote to Sen. Jim Hughes, R-Columbus, who worked on the plan.
Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, argued that the amendment killed off a legitimate referendum effort. "At what point do we stop simply killing an industry, and at what point does this become gross abuse of a corpse?" he asked.
The House is likely to take up the issue in the fall, a GOP caucus spokesman said.
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