June 28, 2016

Mostly cloudy

Cafe petition moves forward

Opponents of an Ohio law that effectively bans storefront sweepstakes parlors can start collecting signatures in their effort to have voters repeal the measure next year.

State officials on Friday certified an initial 1,000 signatures and petition summary wording from the group called the Committee to Protect Ohio Jobs. That means it can begin gathering more than 231,000 signatures needed to place a referendum on the ballot.

The group wants the law repealed to force legislators to pass a new law regulating the industry and shut down what it calls rogue sweepstakes parlor operators. It has until Sept. 3 to collect the required signatures.

The law’s supporters say Internet cafes were harboring illegal gambling.

Earlier this month, state and local law enforcement officials raided two Internet cafes in Medina County and seized 47 cash-operated slot machines.

The businesses raided were Cyber City, 2696 Medina Road, Sharon Township, and Cyber 777’s, 1733 Pearl Road, Brunswick.

The owner of both cafes, Adam Syed, 30, of Fairlawn, was indicted by a county grand jury June 10 on 12 counts of operating a casino gaming operation and eight counts of possessing criminal tools — the slot machines. Both charges are fifth-degree felonies punishable by up to a year in prison.

The indictments also ask for the forfeiture of Syed’s property, including more than $246,000 in cash seized from the two cafes and a vending business he operated at 1180 Triplett Blvd., Akron, and his home, 3681 Torrey Pines Drive, Fairlawn; the contents of two bank accounts; the slot machines and other equipment and furnishing from the cafes; a 1998 Ford box truck; a 2003 Ford Explorer; and two Suzuki motorcycles.

Syed, who was arrested June 5 — the day after the raids — was released from the Medina County Jail after posting a $250,000, 10 percent bond.

His arraignment is scheduled for Thursday before Common Pleas Judge James L. Kimbler.

The investigation into Syed’s cafes was a collaboration among the Ohio Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Ohio Casino Control Commission, the Medina County Prosecutor’s Office, the Medina County Sheriff’s Office and Brunswick police.

Attorney General Mike DeWine was present for the raid on the Sharon Township cafe and held a news conference afterward.

He said there was open gambling going on there.

“There’s no pretense that it’s some Internet cafe. There’s no pretense about buying Internet time,” DeWine said. “It’s just ‘come on in and gamble.’ “

The Ohio Casino Control Act prohibits running a casino gaming operation outside of the four voter-approved casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo and Cincinnati.

The raids came on the day Gov. John Kasich signed a law that effectively banned Internet sweepstakes cafes.

More than 620 Internet cafes operate in Ohio, including 10 in Medina County, according to state records.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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