The Akron Beacon Journal
Earlier this month, the Ohio Senate postponed until 2014 action to crack down on Internet cafes, viewed by law enforcement agencies and state Attorney General Mike DeWine as havens for illegal gambling. Afterward, reported the Columbus Dispatch, top Senate Republicans met for dinner with lobbyists for a firm that provides software and technical support for the cafes.
Although senators denied the dinner was a fundraiser, lawmakers and their caucuses received more than $110,000 in 2012 from interests backing the Internet cafes, most of it going to Republicans. Late last week came more disturbing news, from Timothy McGinty, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, about the cozy relationships between lawmakers and Internet cafes.
He revealed that among the documents seized in raids was an email from the owner of a New Jersey company that supplies software for the computerized sweepstakes games found in six storefront operations. The memo instructed an Ohio representative to have cafe owners write $1,000 checks to the Senate Republican campaign committee and $250 checks to 24 state legislators.
It’s sad to see such a backhanded end to the legislation sponsored by state Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima.
Lawmakers have until July to report donations, but the timing of the March 5 email came right before a March 13 vote in the Ohio House approving a tough bill likely to put most of the approximately 800 Internet cafes out of business. When the bill went over the Senate, it quickly stalled.
In the aftermath, DeWine rightly announced he would launch a statewide campaign to shut down the cafes, based on a decision from the Eighth District Ohio Court of Appeals which upheld illegal gambling convictions against the owners of three Cleveland cafes. The decision dismissed the idea that the sweepstakes games, played on devices that look like slot machines, were merely inducements to purchase Internet time or phone cards.
The raid detailed by McGinty is just the start of DeWine’s campaign. The attorney general has formed a special unit of experts in gambling and investigators from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation to work with local officials in pursuing criminal convictions. “This is not the easy way to do it,” DeWine said. Still, the Senate stall means there is no other option now for dealing with the untaxed and unregulated storefront operations.