A strong push from law enforcement agencies, churches, veterans’ and fraternal organizations, casinos and horse tracks finally resulted in passage of a bill that would effectively ban sweepstakes parlors. Gov. John Kasich’s signature made it a consensus that many of the unregulated, unapproved storefront operations are harboring illegal gambling and are havens for money laundering, human trafficking and other serious criminal activity.
Unfortunately, the fight to close some 620 storefronts across the state isn’t over. In some ways, it may be just beginning. By failing to attach an emergency clause, the legislature left open a window for the parlors to continue to make misleading appeals, directly to voters.
As Kasich signed the ban, supporters of the parlors announced they would circulate petitions to put the bill on the ballot. Without an emergency clause, the law won’t go into effect for 90 days. If those backing a referendum can gather enough signatures in that time, the ban will be put on hold, probably until November 2014, when the issue will appear on the statewide ballot. A companion bill, which extended a moratorium on new parlors until July 1, 2014, must now be adjusted. Those doing business might remain open.
All along, backers of the parlors have sought to portray themselves as local businessmen and women doing nothing more than offering computerized sweepstakes games as an inducement to buy Internet time and telephone cards.
They argue that the ban will put thousands out of work and reduce tax revenues to local governments. Opponents of the ban argue for “reasonable” regulations, saying the ban unfairly targets all parlor owners for the sins of a few.
In truth, the purchase of phone cards and Internet time merely provides access to devices that look like electronic slot machines. Those who opened the parlors knew they were sailing into dangerous waters: Gambling in Ohio is tightly regulated and taxed by the state. Only after getting caught are they seeking to be regulated, placed on equal footing with the tracks, casinos, the Ohio Lottery and charitable gaming.