COLUMBUS, OH and HONOLULU, HI -- Sweepstakes videogames are reportedly growing rapidly in Ohio and Hawaii. In both states, some officials are calling for swift regulations for the games, and thorough investigations into operations of electronic sweepstakes. In Hawaii, sweepstakes operators are citing Ohio case law to argue the legality of the devices.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said the number of sweepstakes videogame locations in the Buckeye State has climbed to 667, more than double the state's official estimate just a few months ago.
Most sweepstakes venues are in the northern part of the state. Cuyahoga County has 75; Lorain County, 70; Lake County, 66; Stark County, 41; Franklin County, 26; Summit County, 24; and Medina and Geauga each have five.
DeWine, who imposed a one-year moratorium on new sweepstakes gaming venues earlier this year, called the growth of the sector "alarming" and recommends stricter regulation. | SEE NEWS RELEASE
Two pending bills before the state Legislature -- HB 195 and SB 317 -- would require uniform licensing and taxing of sweepstakes locations. DeWine has endorsed both measures. The Senate bill would ban sweepstakes games in premises that serve alcohol. | SEE STORY
DeWine warned citizens that leaving the industry unregulated means "there is no way to determine who is getting the money, where the money is going, whether any of these operators are felons, or whether any other criminal activity is funded by these proceeds."
In Hawaii, there are supposedly more than a dozen sweepstakes venues, with more planned to open soon.
The proliferation, and resulting citizen complaints, has prompted Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R-Kailua, Kaneohe) and two other state representatives to demand an official investigation into the status of sweepstakes.
According to HawaiiNewsNow, the games have even begun to pop up at traditional amusement videogame arcades in malls, where children have been observed playing them.
Thielen said attorneys for an arcade chain have pointed to Ohio's laws and court cases as evidence that the sweepstakes games are legal. Disagreeing with that argument, Thielen said, "We have received an opinion that says our law is more stringent."
Police in Honolulu said the investigation requested by Thielen is underway. But the state Attorney General's office is not currently looking into the matter, according to HawaiiNewsNow.
Sweepstakes games typically feature casino-style gameplay graphics and award cash prizes to winners of predetermined sweepstakes. Opponents in many states -- including law enforcement officials, state attorneys general and legislators -- say they are illegal gambling.
Operators claim that sweepstakes games are legal promotions, no different from fast-food restaurant marketing campaigns, and judges in some states have agreed.