LIMA — Rep. Matt Huffman’s new bill designed to shut down Internet cafes now has a bill number assigned to it: lucky No. 7.
Huffman’s bill is included in the list of first legislative initiatives released this week by the Ohio House Republican Caucus.
The bill was originally introduced at the end of 2012, but former Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus put off a vote on the House-passed bill, saying there was too little time to consider the measure.
“It’s essentially the same bill,” said Huffman, R-Lima. “When the conversation started, before I was involved, the question being asked was, ‘Should these be banned or regulated?’ I said, ‘That’s not the question. The question is, do you want this type of gambling to be legal or illegal?’”
The bill would shut down nearly all of the estimated 800 storefront gambling-style operations known as Internet cafes 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.
The businesses are currently not regulated in any fashion.
“I think it should be illegal because statewide, for-profit gambling has never been approved by voters. There is only one state that has it, Nevada,” Huffman said.
A group representing the businesses has formed to fight the bill. Internet Cafe Coalition of Ohio wants a bill that regulates, but does not eliminate the cafes. They said they are small, neighborhood businesses that employ 4,000 people providing legitimate products and amusement and recreational services to customers.
If the cafes are regulated, mom and pop-type establishments would soon be taken over by companies expert in gambling operations. People would find them everywhere, and the cafes would cut into charitable gaming, along with casinos, video lottery terminals and the lottery, Huffman said.