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City Will Take ‘Wait and See’ Approach to Internet Cafes

Popular--but controversial--cafes are becoming more and more popular in Ohio

Following in the footsteps of cities such as Avon and Strongsville, Avon Lake is taking action to prevent Internet cafes from popping up. At least for the time being.

On Feb. 28, approved a six-month moratorium on the creation, operation and/or development of Internet gaming/sweepstakes cafes anywhere in Avon Lake and mandate internet cafes obtain permits.

Councilman Dan Bucci said the legislation was not aimed at permanently banning the cafes, but would allow the city to see how the state and other cities react to them.

“We want to get a handle on what other communities have done and allow the state to review the issue and give municipalities guidance," he said.

The controversial cafés have sprouted in cities throughout Ohio, including Sheffield Lake, Lorain and Brook Park. Internet cafe operators say the operation is gaming and is not gambling, which is regulated in Ohio. Cafe patrons buy pre-paid phone cards used to play online computer games. They can win more internet time and points they can they use to enter sweepstakes and win money.

Supporters say sweepstakes are like scratch-off lottery games with a pre-determined outcome, and are legal.

The concept was tested in Toledo Municipal Court in 2008 when cafe owner Robert Dabish was charged with operating a gambling house and promoting a game of chance. The court sided with Dabish and the decision was upheld in Ohio's Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In Brecksville, the city has threatened to if they open.   

 reported that when an Internet cafe tries to move in to the city, officials hand the owner a warning letter.

"Your business is predicated upon affording customers a place to gamble," the letter says, adding that players, operators and owners may be breaking the law.

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

Bucci said the moratorium was prompted by the uncertainty over the legal issues surrounding the cafes.

“We don’t want to do something and find down the road that it may be illegal or improper,” Bucci said.

The issue in Avon Lake was raised several weeks ago at council’s Economic Development Committee. Councilman David Kos presented the topic for discussion.  

“Even though economic development and moratoriums don’t always go well together, it was the best fit for the topic,” Kos said. Avon Lake’s assistant Law Director David Graves sat in on the meeting.

“He provided a lot of guidance,” Kos said. Graves is the former law director for Sheffield Lake, which permits the cafes.

Kathleen O'Brien Wilhelm March 04, 2011 at 01:41 PM
It's a business. Council zoned strip clubs in Pin Oak Parkway last I remember. Who is the city to stop a business. People come in to patronize these cafes and might actually shop, eat and visit Avon Lake. Council is not supposed to encourage business and find a way!
Carol Lara March 05, 2011 at 03:35 AM
I am not sure what the down side is. Does this bring in crime to the city or is it an opportunity for an evening of fun? Is the opposition made up of those opposed to gambling or is something more involved. Is there a difference between playing the lottery and going to one of these cafes? Business is business. I can't see the harm.
Dave D May 03, 2011 at 09:59 PM
Anyone that thinks Internet cafes are harmless ought to look at the cities they are now popping up in. These same cities also started having payday loans. In case you aren't aware, that is a sign of a cities demise. People do not shop or use other city services. They come in and gamble, yes GAMBLE. The people who frequent these, spend hours there, eating cheap or free food and coffee, designed to keep them there and keep them gambling. Please, wake up, look at the reality of these places. They say this isn't gambling, it's gaming. Going to church and playing Bingo is gaming. Please go visit one of these places, spend some time in one, look at the other businesses around it, and ask yourself, " is this what I really want in my community?" The citizens of Sheffield lake have three of them, and they are busy with people who will spend hours and countless dollars there, but won't spend money on the necessary taxes to fund their schools properly. Which school system would you rather your children be in, ours or Sheffield Lakes?

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