City’s Internet cafes closed after state law enacted

Springfield had delayed its ban while waiting for Ohio lawmakers to act.

Internet cafes in Springfield were closed this weekend after a state law took effect changing the way they could do business, essentially shutting down 800 operations in Ohio.

Three businesses in Springfield were closed on Friday, although one business placed a sign on the door stating it would reopen with updated software. It’s unclear if the businesses will remain closed or continue to operate in a different capacity.

Springfield’s ban on Internet cafes was expected to begin in July. However, House Bill 7 was signed in June, effectively ending the need for legislation in municipalities across the state.

After an attempt by a lobbyist group to have an Internet cafe law put on the November 2014 ballot ended Thursday, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced his office would begin enforcement efforts at the businesses.

Mayor Warren Copeland was pleased the state took the lead on the ban. The city had delayed its ban on the businesses earlier last year while waiting on the state to take action.

“I think it’s always better when something like this is done statewide so there’s not a difference between communities,” Copeland said.

Copeland said he was concerned about lost jobs in the community, but the decision was made by state lawmakers for the greater good.

“It’s always bad to lose jobs, but sometimes that goes with doing what’s best for the community,” Copeland said.

New Carlisle took a “proactive approach” to the businesses, according to city manager Kim Jones. The city enacted a moratorium on the businesses in May of 2012, meaning no Internet cafes could open within the city limits. The moratorium had been extended twice and was expected to be renewed again in November.

“We didn’t want to have that kind of business in the city,” Jones said. “This really helps us.”

Player’s Club Internet Café, 1881 S. Limestone St., and World Internet Cafe, 1812 S. Limestone St., were both closed on Friday. Phone calls made by the News-Sun to the businesses were not answered.

Knight’s Internet Cafe, 1062 Upper Valley Pike, was closed on Friday, but a sign on the door stated: “Effective 10/5/13, Knights will be closed temporarily for software updated. Sorry for the inconvenience. (See ya real soon) Thanks Knight Staff.” A phone call to the business was picked by an answering service, which told customers Knights would be temporarily closed due to “software issues” and asked them to go to Roc-In Skill Games, 1214 N. Bechtle Ave.

The business is owned by Jim Haning of Dublin, who also owns Knights Internet Cafe and Phone Center, 1062 Upper Valley Pike, according to a conditional use permit issued earlier this year. According to the application, the Ohio Revised Code defines skill-based amusement machines as mechanical, video, digital or electronic devices. Players are rewarded only with merchandise prizes or vouchers that do not exceed $10.

The skilled game rooms are believed to be an alternative to Internet sweepstakes cafes. Examples of skilled games include pop-a-shot basketball games, skee ball, Tic Tac Fruit or any other type of game which requires athletic or physical skill.

Outside the World Internet Cafe on Friday, Springfield resident David Walton said it’s “probably” a good thing the businesses were shut down. He said the cafes can become addictive and people would continue to lose money.

“You can’t win any money,” Walton said. “I lost a bunch of money in there, but I knew I’d never get it back. It gives people something to do if they like losing money.”

Internet cafes and game rooms typically offer phone cards that can be purchased for time on computers and also includes sweepstakes entries for games where cash payouts are awarded. Many state and local lawmakers believe the computers were designed to take advantage of loopholes in Ohio’s gaming laws.

Last year, affidavits filed through the Attorney General’s office showed approximately 782 Internet cafes or sweepstakes parlors in Ohio, including 23 in Clark County. Of those 23, 14 operate within the city limits.

Three businesses call themselves Internet cafes, while other businesses like bars and restaurants offer similar computer devices.

HB 7 give the Attorney General’s Office authority over sweepstakes terminal devices used by the cafes, who are also required to register with the state and file monthly reports. It also gave the Bureau of Criminal Investigation the authority to investigate violations made by the businesses. The bill also placed a $10 limit on on the value of prizes and prohibited prizes in the form of cash, gift cards, lottery tickets and vouchers among others.

A press release from the Attorney General’s Office on Thursday said letters would be sent to all 88 county prosecutor’s offices making them aware of businesses in their county. The AG will also be available to assist with illegal gambling investigations regarding sweepstakes terminals.

“House Bill 7 certainly offers clearer guidelines for legal sweepstakes that what previously existed in Ohio law,” DeWine said in a press release. “Sweepstakes operators need to conduct their business in accordance with the law. We will be watching.”

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