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Issue Date: Vol. 50, No. 9, September 2010, Posted On: 9/9/2010

Internet Sweepstakes Cafés A Growing Trend In Ohio

Marcus Webb

COLUMBUS, OH -- Internet cafés with up to 60 terminals that sell phone cards and award cash prizes based on predetermined sweepstakes outcomes -- while allowing patrons to enjoy casino-style videogames -- are beginning to blossom across Ohio. The sites typically require patrons to be 18 or 21 years old, and the busiest venues draw up to 400 customers a day, according to operators.

A local judge has declared the devices legal -- a pattern earlier seen in North Carolina and, most recently, Virginia. Judge Francis Gorman issued a verdict in Toledo Municipal Court in November, 2009, that Players Club in Toledo conformed with state gambling statues, according to the Lorain Morning Journal.

Several similar Internet sweepstakes cafés are now operating in Vermilion, Brook Park and Garfield Heights; at least one café operator said he plans to open more stores in additional cities. Several other operators are seeking to open similar locations in the towns of Elyria and Sheffield Lake, prompting local city councils to adopt or consider adopting ordinances to tax and regulate the venues, according to local press outlets.

One café in Elyria has been raided by local police, but seized machines were returned and gambling charges dropped. Operator Bill Janowich has filed a lawsuit against the city seeking the return of cash and equipment that was confiscated during the raid.

Ohio lawmakers outlawed videogames that look and play like slot machines in 2007, but in a case now pending before the state Supreme Court, some operators contend that they should be able to award prizes worth more than $10 to winners of skill games. Thousands of skill machines are believed to be in operation throughout the state. See earlier VT story.

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