Ohio Senate should go ahead with restrictions on ‘cafes’

Paying money to play “games” in which there is a chance of winning more money is gambling. Calling it something else – like “Internet cafes” – doesn’t change that fact.

Through a process of voter referendums and decisions by state officials, Ohioans have decided during the past several years that certain forms of gambling should be legalized, but regulated by the state. Local and state governments benefit by receiving shares of the proceeds.

Even as the process of legalizing and regulating was proceeding, however, a form of gambling that met neither of those tests was proliferating. It was “Internet cafes” in which customers pay to buy phone cards or time on computers linked to the Internet. Patrons then use the “points” they have purchased to gamble on terminals set up like slot machines. If they win, they get payoffs.

Nearly 800 such gambling parlors have sprung up across Ohio, arousing concern among law enforcement officials.

State House of Representatives members on Wednesday approved a bill to restrict Internet cafe gambling. The measure would limit payouts to $10, a move some operators of the businesses say will force them to close.

Perhaps so, but again, the Internet cafes are engaged in gambling, largely without any oversight by state regulators.

State Senate members should follow the House lead and approve the bill.

Then, however, Ohio officials should consider whether there is a place for Internet cafe-type betting within the legalized gambling framework. Some states, including West Virginia, allow what they term “limited video lottery” gambling with machines operated by hundreds of small businesses.

Perhaps Ohio should look into a similar system. If gambling is to be permitted at racetracks and casinos, under state supervision and with shares of the take going to government, why not at smaller businesses?