COLUMBUS, Ohio - At the urging of some of the state's top law enforcers, the once reticent Ohio Senate has decided to move forward with a ban on Internet cafes they now believe are conducting illegal gambling.
Republican Senate President Keith Faber said Wednesday that a majority of his caucus now agrees the cafes are involved in criminal activities, including illegal gambling, and should be outlawed.
Faber introduced an emergency bill late Tuesday immediately halting any new Internet cafes and requiring operators of current ones to file new, more thorough affidavits with the state that include background information on the facilities' true owners.
Law enforcement officials raid Players, an Internet cafe in Euclid, Ohio, on April 17, shutting down the illegal gambling allegedly taking place.
"Hopefully, we can get this done in a way that we don't have to worry about this again," Faber said. "But history has proven that this is something where we have to stay vigilant. These folks who figure out a way to operate in this area have a willingness to bend the law."
The GOP-led chamber only last week had signaled a bill limiting cash payouts from the cafes was still in trouble. The Ohio House had sent two similar measures since last year to the Senate, where they'd gotten bottled up in committee.
Joseph Rice, a lobbyist for several of the cafes in the Cleveland area, called Faber's announcement interesting.
"It's a very interesting development and we will be monitoring the legislative process very closely," he said.
Faber's announcement follows pleas by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine for legislative action, as well as a pivotal 8th District Court of Appeals ruling concluding the operations were obvious gambling schemes.
DeWine, a fellow Republican, led a raid on six of the facilities in the Cleveland area last week in the wake of that ruling.
DeWine, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien and Ohio Public Safety Director Tom Charles met with Senate Republicans in a closed-door briefing Tuesday night to urge action, explaining the financial and staffing demands being put on law enforcement agencies by the current setup.
The three flanked Faber as he made his announcement Wednesday, lauding the chamber for its change of heart.
"I think this is the right thing to do, and I think it helps us at the local level to spend our time and efforts on the murders, rapes, robberies, burglaries and heroin that we all face in the field every day," O'Brien said.
He called it "a matter of resources and priorities for us."
Faber, who took the Senate's helm in January, said he expects the ban to move quickly.
He said House Speaker Bill Batchelder has indicated his chamber is supportive of the action.