Local authorities said they’re not ready to take on Internet sweepstakes cafes in Medina County.
In Cleveland, search warrants were served Wednesday at six Internet cafes after Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced he was creating a task force to assist local law enforcement and prosecutors in going after Internet cafes.
“These establishments advertised themselves like casinos, provided patrons with slot-machine-like games, and yet thought they could conduct illegal gambling simply by calling it a ‘sweepstakes,’ ” DeWine said in a news release.
Internet cafes are known for selling time cards, or phone cards, for customers to use to gamble or play games online to be entered into sweepstakes through the business.
In Medina County, authorities said they’re watching closely what happens in Cleveland.
“We want to see what’s going on there and how those cases are filed and if they’re successful in court,” Sheriff Tom Miller said.
Miller attended DeWine’s briefing Wednesday along with Lt. Brian Olin of the Brunswick Police Department. Miller said his office will work with DeWine and county Prosecutor Dean Holman to decide whether any action needs to be taken locally.
“This, frankly, is the hard way,” DeWine said. “We are now committed to fight this battle county-by- county and courthouse-to-courthouse, and that’s exactly what this fight will be.”
There are 10 Internet cafes registered in Medina County and nearly 800 statewide, according to the attorney general’s office.
One Internet cafe owner in Medina County said he believes DeWine is “being very rash.”
“He seems to be taking it upon himself to just start shutting these places down,” said Steve Csach, who owns the Lucky Penny in Brunswick, DeWine said that a recent 8th District Court of Appeals ruling considered the sweepstakes model at Internet cafes illegal gambling.
“The decision in the Court of Appeals gives us clear guidance regarding so-called ‘sweepstakes,’ ” DeWine said in a news release. “The court described these operations as a ‘patently obvious gambling scheme,’ ‘a system devised to skirt the law,’ and an ‘attempt to legitimize illegal gambling.’ I concur with the Court’s judgment and will provide guidance to local law enforcement as they build cases against these establishments.”
Csach said he’s not opposed to state regulations for Internet cafes, but it should come from legislators, not DeWine.
“We want to see regulation of the industry so everyone can have some piece of mind,” he said. “At least let the Legislature make the decision.”
Csach said his customers feel safe at his establishment and it provides entertainment for senior citizens who don’t have many other recreational opportunities.
“We have customers that come in regularly just to get out of the house and hang out with new people,” he said.
Csach said he thinks most representatives have more important issues to deal with, which is why the Legislature has been slow to enact regulations on the industry.
“With everything going on in the world today, it doesn’t seem like this is the priority,” he said, “which is why the Senate said we don’t have time for this right now. We’re trying to figure out the state budget.”
Contact reporter Loren Genson at (330) 721-4063 or email@example.com.