July 25, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Internet cafe owners in Medina County protest House Bill 605

Owners of sweepstakes Internet cafes in Medina County are protesting a bill approved by the Ohio House this week that could close their businesses.

“We understand that the industry could use some regulations, but House Bill 605 is going to put us out of business, as well as other stores like us in Ohio,” Steve Csach, owner of the Lucky Penny in Brunswick, said.

Customers play games at E-Z Win, 2767 Medina Road, Medina Township. (KIERA MANION-FISCHER / GAZETTE)

Csach said many of his customers are senior citizens.

“The type of people who come here are people like my parents,” he said. “It’s a place where they can go, people hang out, they’re entertained.”

George Manos, owner of Lucky Buckeye in Wadsworth, echoed Csach’s sentiments, saying the legislation could be “a death notice” for his business.

“We employ five people, and certainly if H.B. 605 passes, this will pretty much be the end of our business,” he said. “Those five people would lose their jobs.”

Manos said the city of Wadsworth regulates his business by requiring inspections of his machines and software, annual licenses and monthly reports.

“I’m very happy that they do that,” he said. “I think it establishes the fact that we are a legitimate business.”

At the cafes, customers pay for Internet time or phone cards, and can play a variety of games of chance, some that resemble slot machines. The games can award cash prizes.

Because the customers do not directly pay to play the games, they are considered sweepstakes and not illegal gambling.

H.B. 605, would close the cafes by narrowing the definition of sweepstakes.

There are 10 Internet cafes registered in Medina County and nearly 800 statewide, according to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

Sam Worthington, 41, of Cuyahoga Falls, was a customer at E-Z Win in Medina Township on Friday night.

He said he considered Internet cafes places to socialize.

“A lot of times I know the local owners, the people who come,” he said. “It’s something to do to get out of the house.”

State Attorney General Mike DeWine has been pushing for a ban, saying there is no guarantee that the games are fair.

DeWine thanked the House on Wednesday for approving the bill, and said in a statement that it was “a major step forward to protect Ohio consumers.”

It is not clear if the state Senate will approve the bill before the legislative session ends. Senate President Tom Niehaus has said he planned to review the bill, and that he favors establishing regulations for the cafes over an outright ban.

Gov. John Kasich signed a moratorium on new Internet sweepstakes cafes in early June, and all of the cafes had to register with the attorney general’s office.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com.