Internet Cafe Owners Want Ohio Voters To Decide Their Future

Jun 11, 2013

Operators of internet cafes are fighting  a new state law banning their operations.

In an interview with Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles, Mark Weaver, a spokesperson for an Internet cafe group, says they are going to take the issue to Ohio voters.

Weaver – The Committee to Protect Ohio Jobs has been formed and will ask Ohioans to sign a referendum petition which will allow Ohioans to decide whether or not internet sweepstakes cafes should be completely banned as opposed to just being regulated.

Ingles – Well, Mark, how many jobs are we talking about here?

Weaver – Good question. There’s no centralized statistics. I know the attorney general was trying to gather some. There are certainly thousands of jobs affected and the tax dollars that both state and local governments make from these internet cafes is in the millions of tax dollars.

Ingles – So what exactly would this do?

Weaver – This is a veto referendum. If Ohioans sign these petitions, then house bill seven, the bill that bans all internet sweepstakes cafes essentially, would be put to a referendum in November of 2014. And if Ohioans turn back that legislation, that would allow the general assembly to pass other legislation that’s pending right now that would regulate this industry, get rid of the bad apples, while still allowing taxpayers to get tax dollars and still bring in the jobs.

Ingles – So how many signatures do you need?

Weaver – The initial signatures were submitted this week and that’s only a thousand to get it started. Once the attorney general certifies the question as a fair summary of the legislation, there will be about 231,000 valid signatures required that will have to be gathered this summer. The way Ohio election law works, when a process like this starts in the late spring or early summer, there’s not enough time to prepare for the ballot that year so we will automatically be put on the 2014 general election ballot, if there are enough valid signatures.

Ingles – And in the meantime, this law will be put on hold, correct?

Weaver – Well the law is on hold right now as all Ohio laws are for ninety days. If there are enough valid signatures gathered by the end of the 90 days, then the law does go on hold until Ohio voters can decide it.

Ingles – How many internet cafes are there in Ohio and how do these work – tell me the scope of them? Weaver – We know there are hundreds but because there are no central statistics, we don’t know how many exactly internet sweepstakes cafes there are. Here’s how they work: Unlike a casino where you go in and give them money and all you get is a chance to win, at a well run internet sweepstakes café, you buy a phone card or some internet time which is usable or things other than sweepstakes. You can use the phone card for long distance. And you buy that product and it is yours to keep. But by buying that product, you are automatically entered into a sweepstakes. You can sit down with the computers in that café and learn what your sweepstakes winning are. Many people do that. There is no alcohol served. This is largely senior citizens who do this for companionship and fun. It’s a lot like bingo for many people.

Lawmakers recently passed the bill that bans internet cafes after Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine raided several of them located in Northeast Ohio. DeWine said the internet cafes were essentially operating like mini casinos. He argues these cafes are often a front for money laundering or human trafficking.