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Internet cafe supporters submit petitions

Internet cafe supporters submit petitions

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WTVN) -- Dozens of boxes with the names of Ohio counties were loaded into a room on the 15th floor of the downtown Columbus building where Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has his office. They contained over 433,000 signatures on petitions in support of internet cafes.

If 231,000 signatures are valid it will be enough to get the issue before voters in 2014.

"I believe we'll file signatures from every county," said Matt Dole, spokesman for the campaign that's working to overturn a state law they claim will essentially put them out of business.

House Bill 7 was passed and signed into law earlier this year. It was to take effect on Wednesday.

"It provides state and local law enforcement the ability to go into these internet cafes and stop the illegal gambling," said Carlo LoParo, spokesman for Ohioans Against Illegal Gambling, the group fighting the ballot issue.

LoParo alleges that many of the signatures were collected illegally and some under false pretenses.

"They were event telling prospective signers that the petition was not for internet cafes, but actually calling for a Department of Justice investigation of the George Zimmerman verdict," he said.

Dole expects about half of the signatures to be valid. If they don't have enough they have 10 more days to reach the needed number.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is no fan of internet cafes, calling them illegal gambling operations and fronts for organized crime. It's something Rob Dabish, who owns and operates more than 20, says is painting the industry with a broad brush.

"We are for regulation, just so everybody understands that. We'd like to get rid of the rogue operators," he said.

Dabish says they sell a legitimate product, phone cards, that have a legitimate use. Even after playing the games on the computers inside the business, he says the phone cards are good for making long distance calls. A Lucas County court has ruled that the operations are not gambling, as defined by Ohio law.

However, opponents of the businesses point out that Ohio law enforcement officials have seized millions of dollars in unregulated gambling proceeds during several raids of internet cafés across the state. Some operators have been indicted on numerous illegal gambling and money laundering charges. The Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals has upheld three Internet café convictions, affirming the businesses operated as illegal gambling parlors.

Dabish says if the law stands it will put him out of business and his 168 employees out of a job.

 

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