Internet Sweepstakes Cafes Shunned By Strongsville

City threatens to prosecute operators if they move in

An Internet sweepstakes cafe has yet to open in Strongsville, and with good reason.

The city has threatened to charge operators of the businesses with a crime.

"We think they violate state and local law," Law Director Ken Kraus said. 

While other communities have said Internet cafes are not considered gambling, Strongsville has stood by an opinion Kraus penned last July and has prohibited the cafes from operating here.

When an Internet cafe tries to move in, the city hands the owner a warning letter.

"Your business is predicated upon affording customers a place to gamble," the letter says.

Players, operators and owners may be breaking the law, it says.

"You are further notified and cautioned that any such use may expose such individuals to criminal charges," the letter warns.

Kraus said several of the cafes have tried to move into Strongsville, but have gone to other cities after reading the letter. One tried to move into 13500 Pearl Rd., but instead has opened at 55 Pearl Rd. in Brunswick.

Kraus said he will not back down until the Ohio Attorney General or a court rules that the sweepstakes cafes are not a form of gambling.

"We've taken a very strong position on this," he said.

At so-called Internet cafes, customers buy time on computers to play online games, some of which resemble casino games.

But proponents argue that because the outcome is predetermined -- rather than games of chance -- they are a type of sweepstakes, not gambling.

While some cases have gone to court, Kraus said the decisions have gone both ways, depending on the specific nature of the computers and the software. He said he hopes new Attorney General Mike DeWine "will take a fresh look at this" and issue an opinion rather than leaving enforcement up to individual jurisdictions.

Kraus said he has received a number of calls from officials in other nearby communities that have allowed the cafes to move in, asking for advice on how to keep more from moving in.

Other cities have placed a six-month moratorium on letting more cafes  come to town, hoping the state or a court will have made a definitive ruling by then.

And others, like Berea, have drafted regulations that allow the businesses to operate only in certain sections of the city and between certain hours.

Strongsville, Kraus said, does not want to give occupancy permits to any sweepstakes cafes and then learn it did not have to.

"We're trying to be very careful," he said.




Ryan Paul March 07, 2011 at 08:21 AM


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