Lawmakers Revisit Internet Café Regulations - NBC4: Columbus, Ohio News, Weather, and Sports (WCMH-TV)

Lawmakers Revisit Internet Café Regulations

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Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine wants state lawmakers to crack down on storefront gambling-style operations known as Internet cafes. DeWine told lawmakers Wednesday he supports an Internet cafe regulation bill sponsored by state Rep. Matt Huffman of Lima.

DeWine says that, without regulation, Ohio's nearly 800 Internet cafes are a rip-off with no guaranteed pay-off.

"My plea with you today is deal with the issue because I have no power to deal with it and nobody else in law enforcement has any power to deal with it," DeWine said.

Late last year, the Ohio Senate put off a vote on House-passed Internet cafe regulations, saying there wasn't enough time to consider it.

Customers at the cafes pay for Internet time or phone cards and use them to bet points on computers loaded with games such as poker. Operators say they sell legitimate products with a chance to win a prize.

DeWine says the operations are illegal and said they are taking in a lot of money.

"They have grown because they think they perceived a loophole in the law and frankly they thought that, just like pigs at a trough they thought they could get up there and get a lot (of money) real quick," DeWine said.

Rep. Huffman acknowledged his bill would likely put most sweepstakes parlors out of business. The bill would prohibit cash payouts and limit merchandise prizes to a value of $10 or less.

"Clearly we're trying to eliminate this kind of sweepstakes and the reason is because it's like gambling - both to the user and the operator in the profit that they're making and the amount of money the user is losing," Huffman said.

Luther Liggett Jr., a spokesman for the Internet Sweepstakes Association of Ohio, says owners are open to state regulation.

"We do support background checks, we do support regulations," Liggett said.  "Where we differ with the bill is, as the representative said, it's intended to put us out of business it's not intended for the attorney general to regulate anything."

On the website of The Internet Café Coalition of Ohio, sweepstakes café owner Bryan Sanshuck is listed as Executive Director. A background check on Sanshuck would turn up a criminal history in Cuyahoga County of misdemeanors for gambling and carrying concealed weapons. But there are no background checks required for owners or employees of Internet sweepstakes cafes - despite the fact that they look and feel like mini - casinos. NBC4's attempts to contact Sanshuck about the issue were unsuccessful.

DeWine says the lack of regulations is a problem.

"We don't have background checks on any of these individuals," DeWine said. "We cannot follow the money."

The attorney general told lawmakers that without regulation, the sweepstakes cafes are a breeding ground for criminal activity.

"When you have that much cash, I will guarantee you have money laundering," DeWine said. "I will guarantee you there is organized crime."

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