Ohio lawmakers debate internet cafe bill

TIFFIN, OHIO (Toledo News Now) -  A new Players Club Internet Café is just days away from opening in the Tiffin Mall, while state lawmakers debate a bill that, if passed, would put a moratorium on any new internet café from opening in Ohio.

Although the bill is unlikely to impact the opening of Tiffin's Player Club, owner Robert Dabbish said he fears the legislation will hurt his business.  He wants individual cities, not the state, to make decisions on internet café moratoriums.

"Our internet cafes bring jobs.  They bring business to other local businesses around here.  Let the cities decide if they really want them or not. Why put the moratorium state-wide?  Let the cities decide," said Dabbish.

State senators are weighing House Bill 386 that now includes a one-year halt on any new internet café from opening.  That moratorium would take effect immediately after the bill is passed, and last until July 2013.

Lawmakers said the moratorium would buy them time to draft separate legislation that would regulate internet cafes.  They are currently unregulated.

"We want to be sure consumers are getting a fair shake.  We want to make sure the owners of the internet cafes are getting a fair shake.  So this is probably the best they can do- is put a hold on it for the next year- until we get adequate legislation," said State Rep. Rex Damshroder, of the Fremont area.

The bill, without the new internet café moratorium provision, has already passed in the House.

Internet cafes have been heavily debated in the Fremont area.  Three internet cafes were raided and shut down earlier this year.  Investigators said the businesses were operating an illegal gambling operation.  The raid has spawned criminal charges and lawsuits.

"There are problems here. I'm not sure if they're legal.  I'm not sure if they're not legal.  There's a big gray area in the law that has to be clarified," said Rep. Damschroder.

Dabbish's Fremont Players Club was part of that raid.  He maintains the internet cafes are legal and continues to defend the business.  He welcomes regulation.

"I want to be regulated so the state knows and they're clear on the definition of what we do and how we operate.  And the people who aren't playing by the rules? They should be shut down," said Dabbish.

The senate is expected to vote on the bill in early May.

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