Casino revenues rise while Internet cafes close

Did Internet cafes in Ohio offer illegal gambling?

That was the crux of the crack down on sweepstakes parlors this year. The cafes sold phone cards or Internet time while giving patrons opportunites to win cash prizes on games that resembled slot machines. Ostensibly, the games were just a method to reveal whether the patron had won a random sweepstakes.

Opponents of the businesss, such as Attorney General Mike DeWine, said the businesses really conducted illegal gambling. That would cut into legal gambling at casinos in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo.

But, oddly, the house bill meant to shut down Internet cafes didn’t ban them outright. Instead, it limited cash payouts to $10, making it difficult for parlors to offer prizes worth more than the cost of playing.

Thus, parlors closed. But what the cafes lost may have ended up in casinos.

The “ban” on Internet cafes went into effect in early October. That same month, revenues at the casinos increased by more than $1 million. The previous month, combined revenues fell by nearly $2 million.

Regardless of whether Internet cafes offered thinly veiled gambling or sweepstakes games imitating slot machines, the decreased competition seems to have benefitted Ohio’s casinos.

What were the chances of that happening?