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North Ridgeville: Internet cafes prepare to go dark

9:00 AM, May 27, 2013   |    comments
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NORTH RIDGEVILLE, Ohio -- Lucky Bezak isn't feeling very lucky this week.

He is one of three co-owners of Aces Grille and Internet Cafe in North Ridgeville.

The State Senate voted to take action that could put Aces and about 650 Internet Cafes statewide out of business by late summer.

"I was disappointed they're not letting the voters decide on this," Bezak said.

The legislature is banning the cafes, calling them illegal and unregulated gambling.

Voters approved the Ohio Lottery, racetrack gambling and casinos and set up state oversight.

Internet cafes just sprang up with no regulation.

Some cities, like North Ridgeville, make money by overseeing cafes and charging licenses and fees.

The cafe owners unsuccessfully argued they are legal sweepstakes games that provide harmless amusement for a mostly senior crowd.

Casinos and those involved in charity gaming lobbied for the ban.

Attorney General Mike DeWine and other law enforcement spokespersons claimed they could be fronts for drugs, prostitution and money laundering.

Bezak spent about $40,000 for gaming hardware, training and North Ridgeville's permits and fees to operate.

"It took a hefty investment...It's going to be a big hit...I would never have spent $40,000 on machines just to have it taken away from us for no reason at all," he said.

He claims the machines kept seven or eight workers on the job over a slow winter for the bar/restaurant.

Cafe owners and software companies must decide whether to come up with several million dollars to collect signatures to mount a campaign to get a referendum overturning the ban on the November 2014 ballot.

Insiders claim the odds of that are not very good.

There could be legal action to try and delay or overturn the ban.

But as things stand, Governor John Kasich is expected to sign the law late next week or the week after.

It would take effect 90 days later.

Bezak says this is a case of the Casino "Goliaths" defeating the Cafe "Davids."

"Someone like me, who doesn't have millions of dollars, I can't get it to the ballot to help. I don't have millions of dollars to fight against the casinos. What's a little guy like me supposed to do?" he asked.

One of Bezak's cafe customers, Leonard Dolly, said, "The voters have got the word as far as I'm concerned. If they want to have them, let's leave it up to them."

WKYC-TV

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