AG to enforce sweepstake regs

COLUMBUS – Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office is ready to begin enforcing Ohio’s new Internet sweepstakes cafe regulations.

“Internet sweepstakes cafes have long had operations that raised suspicions of illegal gambling,” DeWine states in a news release. “Ohio now has a law which makes clear which activities are legal and illegal in these cafes, and we will not hesitate to enforce the law.”

The law DeWine refers to is House Bill 7, which gives the Attorney General’s Office regulatory authority over sweepstakes terminal devices used by Internet sweepstakes cafes. Cafes are required to obtain a certificate of registration from the Attorney General’s Office and file monthly reports.

The Attorney General’s Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation also now will have explicit authority to investigate gambling law violations alleged to occur at Internet sweepstakes cafes.

The attorney general’s plans to send letters to the cafes that previously filed affidavits of existence following a moratorium on new cafes. The letter will outline the changes to law enacted by HB 7, including a $10 limit on the value of prizes.

The new law also prohibits prizes in the form of cash, gift cards, lottery tickets, bingo, instant bingo, alcohol, tobacco, firearms, or vouchers for any such items.

As of June 27, 2013, 17 cafes in Mahoning County had filed affidavits of existence; Trumbull County also had 17 listed Internet cafes. As recently as January of this year, and before the affidavits were required, Trumbull County had 47 listed cafes, while Mahoning County had 37.

The new law also draws a distinction between the casino-style games played at Internet cafes and traditional promotional sweepstakes offered by retailers. Retailers who offer promotional sweepstakes via a terminal device will have certain restrictions and registration to ensure compliance with Ohio law, according to the attorney general’s office.

The Attorney General’s Office also will send letters to all 88 county prosecutors letting them know of the known cafes in their county. The Attorney General’s Office will continue to provide assistance to local law enforcement who request assistance on illegal gambling investigations regarding Internet sweepstakes cafes, including services from BCI, charitable law investigators and attorneys and special prosecutors.

“House Bill 7 certainly offers clearer guidelines for legal sweepstakes than what previously existed in Ohio law,” DeWine said. “Sweepstakes operators need to conduct their business in accordance with the law. We will be watching.”