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Ballot issue to block law falls short

Internet cafe group has 10 days to gather 71K signatures.

A referendum on the state’s recent Internet sweepstakes cafe crackdown looks unlikely after the Ohio secretary of state’s office announced Monday that petitioners fell short of the number of required valid signatures.

The Committee to Protect Ohio Jobs submitted 433,884 signatures earlier this month and needed 231,148 valid signatures — 6 percent of the total vote cast for governor in 2010, and a certain number in 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties to challenge House Bill 7 on the November 2014 ballot.

Only 160,008 of the group’s signatures were determined valid and the signature threshold was met in only 12 counties. The law provides petitioners 10 days to collect more than 71,000 signatures and to meet the threshold in 32 counties.

Campaign spokesman Matt Dole said he’s confident the group will collect enough signatures, despite the short time frame.

“Certainly the validity rate was somewhat lower than we expected, at least in some counties, but we’re prepared to still succeed,” Dole said.

House Bill 7 was intended to shut down Internet sweepstakes cafes, which offer slots-like games played on computer screens, by limiting prize values to no more than $10. Gov. John Kasich signed the bill into law in June, but it’s been on hold as cafe owners and advocates have been collecting signatures to block the law.

Carlo LoParo, spokesman of the casino-backed group Ohioans Against Illegal Gambling, said petitioners must have falsified signatures “because Ohioans wanted no part of these illegal gambling houses.”

“Ohioans are now 10 days closer to ridding our state of these criminal enterprises,” LoParo said. “HB 7 passed both chambers of the General Assembly with large bi-partisan votes. Attorney General Mike DeWine, county prosecutors and local police all have voiced serious concerns about the criminal activity occurring at many Internet cafes.”

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