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Ohio, California Grapple With Video Sweeps Legality

Posted On: 11/11/2010

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Confusion about the legal status of Internet sweepstakes videogames appears to be increasing in Ohio to California, resulting in markedly inconsistent law enforcement policies toward this emerging amusement category in both states.

In Ohio, at least a half dozen city councils passed moratoriums on sweepstakes videogames in October and November. Bans have been enacted in Cleveland, Richmond Heights, Euclid, Garfield Heights and Parma. Several more cities are considering similar action, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Cleveland's police intelligence unit has declared sweepstakes machines to be illegal gambling devices. Before they make a final decision as to whether to lift a city ban or make it permanent, Parma officials said they plan to confer with Ohio's attorney general to determine the legality of sweepstakes videogames.

In California, a similar request for legal guidance on sweepstakes videogames is coming to state Attorney General Jerry Brown from the Oakland city attorney's office, said regional TV station KTVU. Oakland officials said they would also consult the city district attorney and various law enforcement agencies about the rules for sweepstakes devices.v Due to the confusion over whether sweepstakes games are legal promotions or illegal gambling devices, law enforcement policies regulating or outlawing the machines vary widely in both states.

Internet cafés featuring sweepstakes videogames are operating in several San Francisco Bay Area cities, with stores offering prize payouts up to $1,000. But some of these venues operate without apparent interference from law enforcement, even while Oakland city officials have issued a cease and desist order to at least one local sweepstakes videogame operator.

Similar inconsistencies prevail in Ohio. In 2009, the 6th Ohio District Court of Appeals in Toledo ruled that sweepstakes are not gambling devices. But an Akron Municipal Court recently convicted a different sweepstakes game operator on gambling charges, resulting in a six-month jail sentence.

In October, Cleveland police closed the Cyber House sweepstakes café, seizing 46 computers and some $2,225 in cash. Police later learned the landlord of the location is an assistant prosecutor in Cuyahoga County (who said he didn't know what kind of business his tenant was running on his property).

The attorney for the owner-operator of one Internet café in Cleveland said his client may sue the city if it blocks him from pursuing a legal business activity in his building, citing the 2009 Toledo court's ruling.