COLUMBUS, Ohio (WTVN) -- The effort to repeal a state law that effectively shuts down internet cafes in Ohio won't make it to the ballot next year.
The Committee to Protect Ohio Jobs says they fell short of the required number of signatures needed to put the issue before voters in 2014. They initially turned in 434,000 signatures, but only a fraction were valid and they needed about 71,000 more to meet the required 231,148.
"Although tens of thousands of signatures were gathered in the last 10 days and have been inventoried, none will be submitted to the Secretary of State," the group said in a news release.
That means House Bill 7, which was signed into law, is now in effect.
Opponents of the games say they're nothing more than illegal gambling, but operators argue they're selling a legitimate product, either a long distance phone card or internet time.
“Internet sweepstakes cafés have long had operations that raised suspicions of illegal gambling,” said Attorney General DeWine. “Ohio now has a law which makes clear which activities are legal and illegal in these cafes, and we will not hesitate to enforce the law.”
House Bill 7 gives the Attorney General’s Office regulatory authority over sweepstakes terminal devices used by internet sweepstakes cafes.
Cafes are required to obtain a certificate of registration from the Attorney General’s Office and file monthly reports. The Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) also now will have explicit authority to investigate gambling law violations alleged to occur at internet sweepstakes cafes.
DeWine says his office will be sending letters to each of the internet sweepstakes cafes who previously registered with his office. The letter will outline the new law, including a $10 limit on the value of prizes. The new law also prohibits prizes in the form of cash, gift cards, lottery tickets, bingo, instant bingo, alcohol, tobacco, firearms, or vouchers for any such items.
“House Bill 7 certainly offers clearer guidelines for legal sweepstakes than what previously existed in Ohio law,” DeWine said. “Sweepstakes operators need to conduct their business in accordance with the law. We will be watching.”
Backers of internet cafes claim that new laws governing how issues are put on the statewide ballot also helped kill their effort.
"As the first statewide ballot issue committee to operate under new, more onerous rules regarding signature collection in Ohio, it appears that the 1851 Center for Constitutional Law was correct when it recently filed a lawsuit challenging these rules as an unconstitutional infringement of Ohioans' right to petition their government. Simply put, never before has it been so difficult for Ohio citizens to place an issue on the ballot," the group statement said.
Previously, a group submitting signatures would continue collecting them while the Secretary of State's Office counted those already submitted. Under the new law they had to stop collecting until they found out they were short, then had 10 days to make up the difference.
“This has been a complex issue since House Republicans introduced legislation on this during the last General Assembly. Ultimately, House Bill 7 was a bipartisan effort to offer clarity on Ohio’s gaming laws and to protect every Ohio taxpayer. The law is now clear and I am grateful that we can put this issue to rest,” said State Rep. Matt Huffman, the Lima Republican who introduced the new law.
The Committee to Protect Ohio Jobs indicated they may seek legal action, but had not yet made a decision.