Internet cafes to be banned

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio lawmakers are poised to put an end to the state’s internet cafes.
After hearing sometimes tearful testimony from owners and employees of Internet cafes, members of the Senate State Government Oversight and Reform Committee voted Tuesday in favor of legislation that would ban the businesses. Four of the committee’s 11 members voted against House Bill 7 — not enough to keep it from moving to the Senate floor Wednesday for a vote.
The contentious legislation, which moved through committee without amendments, could end up on the governor’s desk this week.
“At the end of the day, the conclusion was the bill that we were given best answered the question that was before us,” said Sen. Dave Burke, the committee’s chairman. “Adding other things to it or taking it and changing it would not have added value to the bill that we had.
Burke said due process will decide if banning Internet cafes is the right move.
The businesses have been scrutinized for what investigators call illegal activity, including money laundering. Internet cafes operate by selling Internet time or phone cards, and in return offer free chances to win cash on computer games that resemble slot machines.
Opponents of HB 7 say the businesses provide a strictly legal and valuable service.
“The customers that come into our cafes are older and come into the cafe not just to take part in the sweepstakes, but also to have social time with their friends,” said Tammy Mathia, an Alliance Internet cafe owner. “We have never had any illegal activity in our stores, ever. If we even hear customers use curse words, we ask them to leave.”
More than 6,000 Ohio jobs would be lost if HB 7 passes, Mathia said.
The state has an estimated 800 Internet cafes.
Michael Nelson, a Cleveland-area lawyer who represents multiple Internet cafe owners, said he is hoping legislators will change their mindWednesday on the Senate floor, but he isn’t counting on it.
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