July 23, 2016

Mostly sunny

Internet cafe owners join to fight state bill

Owners of Ohio storefront gambling-style operations known as Internet cafes want to press their case against state regulations that could amount to a ban.

The group called the Internet Cafe Coalition of Ohio has launched a website that is trying to organize owners to lobby state lawmakers.

Marc Anthony, of Parma, the owner of the E-Z Win Internet cafe on state Route 18 in Medina Township, said he had been contacted by the coalition.

“I received a letter in the mail,” he said. “But it was pretty vague. It really didn’t ask us to do anything other than get the word out.”

There are 10 Internet cafes registered in Medina County and nearly 800 statewide, according to the Ohio attorney general’s office.

Anthony said he and the other owners he knew relied on the companies that provide the “sweepstakes games” software for their cafes to lobby the legislature.

“Everything that has been done has been done by our respective software companies,” he said.

Anthony said he collected between 800 and 900 signatures on petitions opposing the proposed legislation, House Bill 605, which he said would effectively ban Internet cafes by setting a $10 limit on sweepstake prizes and barring giving away cash.

Anthony said he sent the petitions to the software company he deals with, Pong Marketing and Promotions, of Concord, Ontario, Canada, and “they sent them down to Columbus.”

Last month, the president of the Ohio Senate put off a vote on the bill, which was introduced in November and passed the House last month, saying there was too little time to consider the measure.

Supporters of the bill say the Internet cafe computer games that operate like slot machines with cash prizes amount to illegal gambling.

Opponents argue their cafes are legitimate businesses that employ about 4,000 workers, and the sweepstakes offered by the cafes are no different than promotions put on by other businesses.

The Internet Cafe Coalition of Ohio’s website is at www.internetcafecoalition.com.

The Associated Press contributedto this report.

Contact reporter David Knox at (330) 721-4065 or dknox@medina-gazette.com.