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Economy and Business

Internet cafe law takeseffect while opponents review legal options
Ohio group says restrictions will kill Ohio jobs; but Ohio's AG says they are simply clamping down onillegal gambling

Andy Chow
Internet cafes like Lin-Dee's in Streetsboro will now have to register with the state, and cap prizes at $10, thanks to enforcement of House Bill 7
Courtesy of K. Bhatia
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Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is calling for a crackdown on so-called "internet cafes," now that efforts to repeal the regulation of them have fallen short.

Opponents say the new laws will kill thousands of jobs. But supporters tell Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow that the state had to put a stop to what the new law says is illegal gambling.

Hear full story on internet cafe regulations take effect,opponents review legal options

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A team is now considering possible legal challenges to a new state law strictly regulating internet cafes. The Committee to Protect Ohio Jobs led the fight against the restrictions created in HB7, ones they say effectively ban internet cafes.

On Thursday, the committee announced that it fell short of the required amount of signatures to put a referendum on the November 2014 ballot.

Representatives for the Committee to Protect Ohio Jobs would not comment on the situation; its legal team is reviewing options. However,  the committee did release a statement claiming the laws will eliminate thousands of jobs.

All jobs are not equal
Lima Republican Rep. Matt Huffman sponsored the bill and has no problem admitting that the new law will put people out of work. But he insists that these are jobs connected to illegal gambling and Ohio lawmakers made the decision to crack down on these operations.

“We could create many many jobs in Ohio if we wanted to legalize prostitution, if we wanted to legalize marijuana, heroin, and other drugs. You’d have people flocking to Ohio,” Huffman said. “Of course you’d have to pay the social price and economic price.”

The internet cafe issue was the first referendum effort to be subjected to the new signature collecting laws, and says it was hampered by this new system created by another state law.

Too far short?
The committee had 90 days to collect about 231,000 valid signatures. The Secretary of State’s office determined that the committee fell short, so the group had another 10 days to meet its quota. In the past, groups could collect signatures while the Secretary of State’s office was still counting the first batch. Starting this year that process is banned.

Huffman predicts—judging by early numbers—that the cafe backers wouldn’t have been able to make its mark even if it did have more time.

“You can’t really complain about the 10 days when you did such a bad job in the initial portion of that—in that initial signature gathering effort,” Huffman. “They were so far away even if they had another 10 or 20 days, so I think that’s sort of an excuse.”

Other legal fronts
The group fighting against the internet café regulations would not go into detail about what kind of legal challenge it could mount. But supporters of the new laws say they aren’t worried. Carlo LoParo, spokesman for Ohioans Against Illegal Gambling, says the lack of signatures shows a clear lack of support.

“News reports — you see it throughout the state  —are talking about these places being raided by police, their owners being prosecuted on illegal gambling charges,” LoParo said. “I think Ohioans saw right through that activity I don’t think it had anything to do with requirements in the law or any constraints. Ohioans just saw right through what they were doing.”

Since the referendum effort failed, the restriction in HB 7 are now in effect. The Ohio Attorney General’s office announced that it will now begin enforcing these regulations and seeking out any illegal activity.

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