Support Marketplace

Internet cafes equipped with computer games resembling casino games have popped up across Ohio in strip malls and rural areas. Now there's a bill to cap winnings and ban the practice.

In some parts of the world Internet cafes are places for video gamers to gather or for study-abroaders to email parents back home. But in Ohio, they are often used for online gambling -- and they might not be around much longer.

"These places are not regulated," says Tom Ott, reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "The actual activity at the machine level is not tracked."

Internet cafes equipped with computer games resembling casino games have popped up across the state in strip malls and rural areas. They operate sort of like sweepstakes, where a user can buy time for, say, $20 and end up winning $2,000.

"You go and ostensibly purchase Internet or phone time, and based on that purchase, you get points for games that are played on computers that function like slot machines," Ott says.

Ott has been following legislation that would effectively ban these cafe games by putting stringent caps on potential winnings near $10. At $20 to play and a $10 cap, even if you win, you lose.

The legislation, which would also work to lessen competition for casinos in Cleveland, Cincinatti, and Columbus, has passed the state Senate and Ohio Governor John Kasich is expected to sign it.

"This thing is nothing more than politics and money," says Michael L. Nelson, a Cleveland area attorney who represents cafe owners. "Everytime a new casino opens, there is this big push to close Internet cafes."

We talked to employees at a several Ohio Internet cafes for this story, but none would go on the record. One man who manages two establishments told us his lawyer told him to stop talking to the press. Laws similar to Ohio's legislation have already passed in Florida and California.

About the author

Ben Johnson is the host of Marketplace Tech.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.