Internet cafe operators are organizing a repeal effort even before the ink is dry on a new law that would shut down the sweepstakes businesses in Ohio.
Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich in a private ceremony on Tuesday evening signed House Bill 7, which would effectively shut down Internet cafes by limiting their cash prizes to $10.
But, an effort will begin this week to try pose the issue to voters on the November 2014 ballot, said Mark Weaver, a Columbus-based political consultant working for the industry-backed Ohio Free Enterprise Alliance.
The coalition would have 90 days — the grace period before the law takes effect — to collect 231,150 valid signatures from registered voters in half of Ohio’s 88 counties in order to make it on the ballot. If they are successful, the estimated 800 Internet cafes in Ohio — 100 of which are in the Miami Valley — would remain open until the vote takes place.
The OFEA issued a statement Tuesday pointing to a Dec. 2012 poll from a Columbus polling company in which 45 percent of respondents said Internet cafes should be more strictly regulated, compared to 20 percent that said they should be shut down.
“Given these poll numbers, the loss of Ohio jobs and loss of revenue from sales taxes and local fees, we believe the public should have an opportunity to repeal HB7 and we call on Ohioans who share our view to begin collecting signatures to place this on the November 2014 ballot,” said Jon Grimm, chairman of the Ohio Free Enterprise Alliance in a written statement.
To get the ball rolling on the referendum process, Internet cafe owners first need to collect 1,000 valid signatures.
The Ohio Senate approved the ban on May 22 after the House passed it earlier this year. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans. Religious groups and law enforcement pushed for the ban, saying Internet cafes are illegal gambling operations. Internet cafe groups and their supporters said the businesses are just sweepstakes operations, and said they should be regulated but not closed.
Kasich a week ago signed a bill extending a moratorium preventing any new Internet cafes from opening until June 2014.
Authority of state auditor challenged
Kasich signed four other bills into law on Tuesday, including a bill legislators approved last week that would prevent the state auditor from auditing JobsOhio, the private economic development non-profit Kasich helped create.
Ohio Auditor Dave Yost will meet with staff on Thursday to determine how the law would affect an ongoing 2012 review of JobsOhio, a spokeswoman said. The Republican auditor tangled with Kasich earlier this year over access to JobsOhio’s financial records, leading Kasich to push for the new law.
Bill signed honoring slain Clark County deputy
Kasich also signed a bill that’s designed to keep law enforcement officers safe by giving them access to more information about potentially dangerous people with a history of mental illness. The bill is named for slain Clark County Sheriff’s Deputy Suzanne Hopper, who was killed in the line of duty in January 2011 by a man with a history of mental illness at the Enon Beach Campground.
Also signed by Kasich on Tuesday: a bill sponsored by Ohio Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, that updates Ohio’s third-grade reading guarantee and Senate Bill 9, which makes tweaks to insurance laws in Ohio.