Internet cafes and sweepstakes parlors will need licenses under new legislation

By MARC KOVAC Dix Capital Correspondent Published:

COLUMBUS -- Sweepstakes parlors and Internet cafes would be required to obtain licenses and post game-winning odds, under legislation being considered in the Ohio Senate.

Sen. Joe Schiavoni, a Democrat from Boardman, said the goal of the bill is to regulate gaming storefronts that have found a way to operate outside of Ohio law.

"In the Mahoning Valley, we have a lot of these in operation...," Schiavoni said. "You can go down any street in Youngstown, Boardman, Austintown, and you'll see many of these open with a lot of cars in the parking lot.

"I've talked to a lot of constituents that really enjoy going to play ... what look to be slot machines. They believe that they're slot machines."

He added, "I believe that we just need to put the proper regulation and let people choose to go in once they know the true odds of the game, because right now anybody can open up and they can pay out whatever they want."

Senate Bill 317 had its first hearing before the Senate's Government Oversight and Reform Committee Tuesday.

That same committee moved a larger gambling bill that includes a moratorium on sweepstakes parlors and requirements that existing businesses file affidavits notifying the state attorney general of their operation.

SB 317 would authorize the Ohio Casino Control Commission to regulate sweepstakes terminal device gaming and businesses. The latter would be required to pay $10,000-$100,000 or more to meet licensing requirements, and those failing to meet state requirements could face criminal and civil charges.

"Machines will be tested and certified by an independent testing laboratory," Schiavoni said.

"After the machines and software are authorized, the rules and odds must be posted for the public to see. This will provide consumers with the true odds of the games they are playing so that they can make a decision of whether or not they would like to participate."

Republicans on the committee questioned whether lawmakers should move to shut down the businesses altogether.

"It seems to me what we try to do though is use a loophole in the sweepstakes law to allow gaming, and that's what the sweepstakes parlors seem to be doing," said Sen. Keith Faber, a Republican from Celina. "So why don't we just eliminate the loophole?"

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