Columbus -- The Ohio House moved legislation March 13 that likely would lead to the shuttering of sweepstakes parlors across the state.
But House Bill 7 faces an uncertain future in the Ohio Senate, where comparable law changes stalled last session as GOP members questioned their impact businesses and jobs.
The measure passed the House on a vote of 66-29, with bipartisan support and opposition.
The legislation focuses on what have commonly been called Internet Cafés, though the businesses are not the typical coffee shops where customers go to read email or browse websites. Generally, patrons purchase phone cards upon entering, buying a chance to win sweepstakes prizes and using computers that resemble slot machines.
More than 800 of the businesses have registered with the state to date, though a moratorium on new storefront openings is currently in place.
The new law would require sweepstakes parlors to register with the attorney general's office. The storefronts would be banned from offering cash payouts or merchandize prizes worth more than $10. There would be criminal penalties against those that violate the law.
Additional language would ensure other businesses could continue to offer sweepstakes contests, including McDonald's oft-mentioned Monopoly promotion.
Supporters of the law changes, including Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine, said the legislation is needed to stop unregulated gambling and the potential illicit activities that sometimes come with such establishments.
"HB 7 is a major step forward to protect Ohio consumers and to provide clarity to law enforcement. I look forward to and encourage swift passage of HB 7 in the Ohio Senate," DeWine said in a released statement.
But parlor owners and others say lawmakers are closing legitimate enterprises and will potentially cost the state thousands of jobs.
"With this vote, too many House members showed they want government to pick winners and losers among businesses," Joe Grimm, chairman of the Ohio Free Enterprise Alliance, said in a released statement. "Tea party leaders, local governments and small business owners across Ohio strenuously disagree. While this vote will likely be an issue in many primary election contests next year, for now, we call on the Senate to pass a law that regulates sweepstakes rather than criminalize them."
The bill survived an attempt to re-refer it to committee for further consideration -- a move its sponsor said was unnecessary.
"This issue has been vetted pretty thoroughly," said Rep. Matt Huffman (R-Lima). "We had substantial debate ... we've had a number of hearings … I think this is appropriate for a vote on the House floor."
HB 7 hads to the Ohio Senate for further consideration.
Senate President Keith Faber, (R-Celina), said he would like to complete work on the bill before summer.
"I think we want to understand what it does and what it doesn't do," Faber said, adding later, "I think most of us believe that there needs to be some level of regulation. Does it go all the way to a ban? I'm not sure, but we have not polled that issue inside the caucus."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.