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Internet Cafe Owners Try To Repeal Restrictions

CINCINNATI: (Jeff Hirsh) You may not be aware of it, but there's yet another petition drive in Ohio, trying to get an issue on the ballot ... an issue where you will have final say. This one concerns internet sweepstakes cafes which, depending on your point of view, are either illegal gambling, or honest competition to the big boy casinos.

Local 12 News Reporter Jeff Hirsh tells us the petition signature count is now under way.   With the mayoral primary behind them, and the general election looming in November, folks at the Hamilton County Board of Elections have something else to check and check quickly ... thousands of petition signatures.

Amy Searcy, Director, Hamco. Bd. of Elections:
"So, we're working 8-8 Monday thru Friday, all day Saturday and all day Sunday."

The statewide petition drive is an effort by operators of internet sweepstakes cafe's to stay in business in Ohio.  Those cafe's sell phone cards.  Buyers could then play internet sweepstakes games to win cash.  Some state officials call it illegal gambling, so the legislature passed a law limiting payouts to prizes worth 10 dollars, in effect shutting the cafes down, because they could not make money.
But the cafe industry has gathered more than 430-thousand signatures, trying to get repeal of the law on the ballot in November, 2014.
Local boards of elections have until next Friday to check signatures. Besides regulars working overtime, Hamilton County has hired some 35 part time workers.

"It's a particular skill, we have to spend hours training them. They have to understand our voter registration system, how to look up a signature and verify if it is a valid signature at the address, and if the signature itself is the signature of the voter."

"For reasons no one can seem to figure out, these folks have more counting to do than anyone else in the state. Hamilton County has 126-thousand signatures to check on the petitions. Cuyahoga County and Franklin County, Cleveland and Columbus, both bigger, have come in at about 86-87-thousand apiece."

It's not a slam dunk that the petition drive will make it.  So far, here at least, more than half the signatures are being disqualified.
One sweepstakes cafe in our area in Middletown has already closed, but another is still open, hoping for a future which seems a 50-50 bet at best.  The petition drive needs 231-thousand valid signatures to make it on the ballot.
If that number isn't reached once the count is finished, under state law you have ten more days to try to get more signatures.




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