Bill should not ban all gambling operations

Ohio legislators finally seem to be getting serious about shutting down “Internet cafes” throughout the state. They are absolutely right to be doing so.

But they may want to think about whether, in the process of throwing out some very dirty bath water, they also are getting rid of a potentially lucrative “baby.”

Hundreds of Internet cafe operations in the Buckeye State are thinly disguised storefront gambling operations. That is illegal, as one court already has ruled.

And far from being little “mom ‘n pop” businesses, as some of their operators maintain, many if not all of the cafes are linked to national gambling interests.

But this type of operation is not the only gambling in town, so to speak. Many veterans’ and other fraternal organizations also operate gambling operations, sometimes differing from the Internet cafe model.

If legislation that seems certain to be approved by the General Assembly is enacted, it appears all gambling operations outside of casinos and racetracks would be banned.

Attorney General Mike DeWine has said that if legislators do not legalize the type of gambling used by some fraternal organizations, law enforcement agencies will begin cracking down on them after Aug. 1.

That stance is appropriate, of course. Illegal is, well, illegal. And shutting down the Internet cafes is appropriate.

But legislators may want to take another look at the issue. Part of the problem is hundreds of virtually unregulated gambling parlors.

Some states, including West Virginia, have dealt with that concern by making small gambling operations legal – but under strict supervision and with payment of part of the proceeds to the state. In the Mountain State, such “Limited Video Lottery” parlors pumped $406 million into state coffers last year.

Many Ohioans just don’t like gambling – and they are right to be concerned. Gambling operations often prey on compulsive bettors whose families cannot afford the money lost to electronic one-armed bandits.

But remember, by a vote of the people, some types of gambling already have been legalized in Ohio. If it is to be offered at casinos and racetracks, why not elsewhere? That is a question legislators – who certainly took plenty of time in deciding to crack down on Internet cafes – should be considering.