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Columbus: Future of internet cafes up to lawmakers

7:47 PM, Dec 7, 2012   |    comments
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COLUMBUS -- The odds on the survival of internet cafes in Ohio are hard to figure.

A proposal that would amount to banning them has made it through the House and awaits possible debate before the Senate.

But Senate President Tom Niehaus has not said for sure if the measure will be considered before the lame duck session adjourns.

Rocky River's Ron Guttu visits the Nova Sweepstakes Cafe in Cleveland a couple times a week.

"It's relaxing to me. It's the main reason I come," he said.

He buys a phone card and uses that to get time on a slot machine like game to get cash prizes.

"I kind of consider it like a sweepstakes. It's not gambling to me," he said.

But cafe critics think it is gambling that was not approved by voters and is escaping regulations.

As you might expect, casinos want to ban the cafes.

The ban the House passed would limit prize values to $10 and ban cash prizes.

Rock Gaming Spokesperson Jennifer Kulczycki said, " ...The 800-plus Internet cafes across the state are conducting unauthorized gambling...Internet cafes are skirting Ohio law and avoiding basic scrutiny..."

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine opposed casinos.

But he finds himself an ally in the battle against cafes.

"We don't know if owners have a criminal record. We don't know if employees have criminal records. We don't know where the money is going. We do know some of the money is going overseas. It's a perfect way to launder money," he said.

Mayor Jackson calls the casinos vulture-like, preying on customers.

"For us we're better off if they are banned. Regulation is problematic for us, " he said.

Cafe operators are expected to present a new study soon, claiming they create 6,000 jobs and add 800 million to the state's economy.

But they characterize themselves as the little guy in this fight.

Michael Nelson, a lawyer representing cafes, said, "This is a classic case of David and Goliath. These cafes are David. The casino operators are Goliath."

Guttu says he also goes to the Horseshoe casino, but hopes to keep visiting cafes.

Nova's manager Jacquline Pratts says 75 percent of money customers spend is returned in prizes.

As for suggestions of unsavory activity in the establishment that serves no alcohol, she says ," You can look around for yourself . Most of our customers are senior citizens relaxing."



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