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An Austintown Internet cafe has been targeted for closure by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who filed a lawsuit against the business in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court on Tuesday.
Winners Palace II, 1698 S. Raccoon Road, and its operator, Gino A. Maurizio, were one of three Internet cafes sued by DeWine for failing to file affidavits of existence after a statewide moratorium went into effect in 2012. The other two parlors are A.J.’s Sweepstakes in Van Wert and Lucky Sweepstakes in Fulton County.
The Ohio Senate is to vote Wednesday night to extend the moratorium through next June.
The measure would extend a current moratorium on the opening of new sweepstakes gambling operations until June 2014, as lawmakers consider a ban on the facilities. The legislation also would require operators of current facilities to file more thorough affidavits of existence with the state. And those who don’t submit a new affidavit could face a fine of up to $1,000 a day.
The state’s attorney general could also prosecute an operator or employee for providing false information on the new form.
“While we suspect Ohio gambling laws are likely being violated at nearly all Internet cafes in Ohio, the clearest illegal activity occurs when an establishment opens in violation of the statewide moratorium,” DeWine said in a statement. “My office will not hesitate to take actions to shutter these illegal establishments when evidence shows they did not exist prior to the moratorium.”
In the course of verifying affidavits of existence filed by sweepstakes establishments as required by HB 386, agents from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation identified the locations as operating an Internet café without having filed an affidavit. The statewide moratorium established by HB 386 prohibited new Internet cafes from opening after June 11, 2012.
Even if a sweepstakes establishment filed an affidavit, the moratorium would still be in effect if that establishment was not operating before that date.
The violations alleged in the lawsuits include opening a new sweepstakes establishment in violation of the moratorium and failure to file an affidavit certifying existence. The lawsuit seeks to permanently enjoin the defendants from using sweepstakes terminal devices at locations in violation of the moratorium.
DeWine also is seeking a preliminary injunction to cease terminal operations while the lawsuit is pending.
More than 820 affidavits were filed with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office pursuant to HB 386. The affidavits represented 794 unique locations at which Internet cafes were alleged to have existed. Subsequent verification by BCI in the past month has determined that 623 of those sites have an Internet café currently operating.
DeWine was scheduled to testify Tuesday on HB 7, which would effectively ban sweepstakes establishments in Ohio, before the Senate State Government Oversight and Reform Committee. The Ohio Senate is expected to vote on the legislation in the next month.
While legislation is pending, DeWine formed the Internet Gaming Advisory Unit within his office to help local law enforcement and prosecutors’ offices with staff experts in investigating and prosecuting Internet sweepstakes cases.