Odds are state will protect its take

An article by The Columbus Dispatch questions whether Internet sweepstakes cafes in Ohio are eating into casino profits from slot machines.

The story cites a study by the Ohio Casino Control Commission, which found Ohio casinos earned comparatively less from slot machines than casinos in Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri and Pennsylvania. In those five states, slot machines accounted for about 85 percent of casino revenue. Here in Ohio, the machines contribute 70 percent.

Maybe that is because Ohio has about 800 parlors, where customers buy Internet access or phone cards and can use them to reveal whether they have won a sweepstakes prize. Or, perhaps gamblers in Ohio prefer to play table games that involve other people, and not just video terminals.

What should be of more concern is whether Internet cafes are claiming a share of entertainment dollars residents ordinarily spend at bingo games operated by local churches, veterans’ organizations and other nonprofit groups.

Really, the main focus for governing bodies should be whether Internet cafes offer sweepstakes masquerading as slot machines or gambling under the guise of sweepstakes entries. Ensuring the public isn’t being cheated should be the first priority of regulations.

Beyond that, it doesn’t appear village and city officials are all that worried residents might be spending money at local Internet cafes instead of taking those dollars to casinos in Toledo, Columbus, Cincinnati or Cleveland.

What might get the attention of these elected officials is a local share of casino revenues being distributed to counties.

Odds are, the lure of casino-tax revenue – now nearly $1 billion a year – will prompt state lawmakers to vote for a ban on Internet cafes this year.