TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Ohio is moving toward shutting down hundreds of storefront gambling operations that have sprouted up in strip malls and vacant stores, offering computer games that operate like slot machines with cash prizes.
The Ohio House approved a proposal Wednesday that amounts to a virtual ban on the game parlors known as Internet cafes.
It's been nearly two years since lawmakers first began weighing what to do about these sweepstakes games that are largely unregulated and don't face the same scrutiny as casinos and other games of chance. Some favored new regulations while others wanted a ban on the Internet cafes.
"Internet cafes are simply gambling by another name," said Rep. Dennis Murray, a Democrat from Sandusky.
The bill, approved by a 2-to-1 margin in House, would shut down nearly all of the estimated 800 sites by narrowly defining what counts as a sweepstake.
Owners of the Internet cafes say the proposed legislation could mean the loss of as many as 5,000 jobs in Ohio.
Most of the operations are in the northern half of the state. Customers pay for Internet time or phone cards and use them to bet points on computers loaded with games such as poker. The businesses say they sell legitimate products with a chance to win a prize.
Rep. Kenny Yuko, a Democrat from the Cleveland area, said it was the wrong time to crack down on businesses that employ many people and generate tax money.
"Our cities get some valuable dollars that they're in desperate need of," he said.
Several cities have sought to close the sweepstakes cafes, only to lose in the courts.