Arrested were Clark Yanez, 23, of Front Street in Paterson; Rubin Vasquez, 36, of Smith Street, Perth Amboy; and Fernando Puelles, 35, Carlos Salazar, 26, and Leonardo Alcade, 25, all of Paterson.
Police met with a woman who owns the Maria Multi Service Computer Store at Central Avenue at Paterson Avenue on Saturday at 6:30 p.m., said Capt. Edgar Martinez.
The owner said that Yanez entered the cafe and asked to use one of the computers, and a moment later asked to use the restroom.
At that point, Vasquez and Puelles walked in and approached the owner behind the register, Martinez said. Police said Vasquez then pulled out a knife, pushed the owner to the ground yelling, "I know where you live. I will kill you."
Reports said that Puelles then grabbed cash from the register and put the money into a black book bag before the three men fled in a Chrysler Pacific SUV, heading west on Paterson Avenue.
Police stopped the SUV at Spruce and Market streets in Paterson and the men were taken into custody at 7:52 p.m. Saturday, Martinez said.
Police recovered the knife they believe was used in the robbery and $12,099 cash, reports said.
Yanez, who had an outstanding warrant from Middlesex County, was found to have three bags of suspected cocaine in his right pocket, police said.
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- A Cuyahoga County grand jury indicted nine people and four businesses today on gambling-related charges relating to their involvement with Internet cafes.
Several of those charged have been named in previous indictments, including Phillip Cornick, 50, of Jackson, N.J., and his company VS2 Worldwide Communications, which provides software to some of the cafes.
Newly indicted were Gary Tritsarolis, 50, Debra Tritsarolis, 46, and Dennis Tritsarolis, 54, of Cuyahoga Heights; Tritsarolis Investment, which does business as Internet Island in Cuyahoga Heights; Gaby Hasrouni, 42, of Stow; and Jim Katt LLC, which does business as Cyber Space Internet Cafe in Maple Heights.
Others charged today who have also been previously indicted include George Hasrouni, 44, of Willoughby Hills; Christos Karasarides Jr., 47, of Canton, Richard Upchurch, 59, of Ramseur, N.C., Michael Koty, 50, of Bloomsbury, N.J., and Hasrouni Investments Inc., which does business as Emerald Isle in Euclid.
The charges represent the latest round of indictments sought by County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty, who contends the cafes operate as illegal gambling parlors and has vowed to shut them down in the county.
Cafe owners contend they are legitimate businesses that sell Internet and phone services, then offer customers the chance to play slots-like computer games.
Durham, N.C. — Durham County sheriff’s deputies raided two Internet sweepstakes cafés Thursday, seizing dozens of computers and thousands of dollars in cash.
Big Pay Day on Guess Road and EZ Biz Sweepstakes on North Roxboro Road were targeted after an undercover investigation determined they were operating illegally, Sheriff Mike Andrews said.
At Big Pay Day, deputies seized 26 computers and more than $5,500. Five unidentified customers were cited for misdemeanor gambling and released.
At EZ Biz Sweepstakes, 44 computers and more than $1,900 were seized. Six unidentified customers were cited for misdemeanor gambling and released. The café manager also was cited with misdemeanor operating a server-based electronic game promotion.
Both cafes are owned by Erik Mac Lohela, 44, and Hoa Thi Lohela, 40, both of the 900 block of Lystra Lane in Chapel Hill. Hoa Lohela was in Big Pay Day during the raid and was cited for misdemeanor promoting, operating or conducting a server-based electronic game promotion.
Erik Lohela was not at either café. Investigators said his arrest is pending.
Video sweepstakes games were outlawed by the state in 2010. In December, the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the ban, and many counties have been cracking down on the electronic gambling parlors.
“The process of investigating sweepstakes cafes is no easy task,” Andrews said in a statement. “I support and admire the hard work and dedication that my deputies are putting forth to ensure the laws related to Internet-based gambling are fairly and effectively enforced in Durham County.
In April, deputies raided the HS Internet Café, seizing 108 computers and about $2,500. Maj. Paul Martin, head of the sheriff’s Criminal Investigations Division, said many of Durham’s illegal sweepstakes cafes closed after that.
“Some of them, however, like the two cafes deputies raided this afternoon, have continued to operate illegally – and that won’t be tolerated in Durham County,” he said in a statement.
Martin said deputies will continue undercover work to shut down illegal gaming sites.
“Customers at these establishments must also be aware that they too will be charged if deputies find them gambling in these cafes,” he said.
ONTARIO, Ohio (AP) — Ohio's attorney general says state investigators searched a Richland County business suspected of operating as an illegal gambling establishment.
Attorney General Mike DeWine's office said Friday that agents with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation seized evidence, but made no arrests at the facility in Ontario. The investigation is ongoing.
DeWine recently formed an Internet Gaming Advisory Unit within his office to help local law enforcement and prosecutors' offices investigate and prosecute Internet sweepstakes cases.
At Internet cafes, patrons buy cards for phone and Internet time with chances to play computer games that operate like slot machines with cash prizes.
DeWine calls the cafes illegal gambling operations. The industry calls the facilities legal.
The raids came after the 8th District Court of Appeals ruled that the operations were obvious gambling schemes.
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Two Internet cafe owners pleaded guilty to misdemeanor gambling charges today and agreed to testify against others accused by prosecutors of being part of an illegal gambling syndicate.
The plea deal, which dismisses a racketeering charge and other felony counts against Robert Rogers and Terry Fiala, comes two weeks after police and state agents raided the men's Infinity 2 Internet cafe in Westlake and five other cafes owned by others.
"I did not intend to break the law," Rogers said just before Common Pleas Judge Deena Calabreese sentenced each man to pay a $1,000 fine.
Rogers, 40, and Fiala, 60, were charged in a multi-count indictment along with their software provider, VS2 Worldwide Communications in Farmingdale, N.J., and several other operators of Internet cafes or support businesses.
County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine contend the cafes are illegal gambling parlors. Cafe owners contend they are legitimate businesses that sell Internet and phone services, then offer customers the chance to play slotslike computer games.
Rogers and Fiala own two other cafes, one in Westlake and the other in North Olmsted. Those cafes were not raided, but Rogers and Fiala agreed to close them.
The corporation that operated the three cafes also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor and felony counts of possessing criminal tools. The two men and their corporation will have to forfeit nearly $240,000 in cafe proceeds.
Mike DeWine’s time as Ohio Attorney General has been plagued by bad legal decisions. His recent plan to start raiding and shutting down Internet cafes that offer sweepstakes games could turn out to be the next one on the list.
Two weeks ago, DeWine briefed law enforcement officials from around the state on how to prosecute Internet cafes, prior to raiding six of the businesses in Cuyahoga County that afternoon.
At the briefing DeWine “announced a new Internet gaming unit in the attorney general’s office to help them investigate”, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. ”The special unit includes members of DeWine’s staff with expertise on gambling and charitable gaming” who will be available to provide “advice” or “help with court cases” or assistance with “covert investigation.”
While it may sound like DeWine is developing some kind of awesome CSI Las Vegas-like unit to help fight illegal gambling in our state, not all Ohio prosecutors seem to agree with DeWine on the clarity of existing laws and at least one law director has been forced to dismiss charges against a cafe because DeWine’s office couldn’t provide any help with the prosecution.
According to a recent story in the Chillicothe Gazette, Chillicothe Law Director Sherri Rutherford had to drop charges against an Internet cafe that was raided last year because she couldn’t get an expert witness from DeWine’s office to testify.
“It was like trying to track down a ghost,” Rutherford said of trying to get an expert from the Attorney General’s Office, adding that anyone she talked to had been reassigned.
This cafe may be back in operation soon, despite the current moratorium on new Internet cafes in Ohio, because an exception in the law allows cafes shut down by law enforcement to reopen if they meet certain requirements.
DeWine’s office claims to have experts in gambling on staff but he couldn’t produce a single individual to assist with the prosecution in Chillicothe. And while DeWine has urged county prosecutors to begin shutting down the cafes immediately, the Chillicothe case may give them reason to question the promises coming out of the Attorney General’s office.
The prosecutor in Chillicothe has already expressed some doubts about moving forward with any new cases. The legislature needs to “clean the law up” around Internet Cafes, said Ross County Prosecutor Matt Schmidt in the same Chillicothe Gazette story. And until they do he thinks “it’s prudent to take a wait-and-see approach.”
A judge in Franklin county expressed a similar concerns, recently telling law enforcement to stand down while he reviews a lawsuit brought by cafes in Northern Ohio. According to the Columbus Dispatch, Common Pleas Judge Mark Serrott urged “law-enforcement agencies not to raid four Lake County Internet sweepstakes cafes” that brought a lawsuit against the AG’s office.
DeWine’s office appears to be in full-on campaign mode: searching for anything that will get him in front of a camera or a reporter. But we wonder if maybe he jumped the gun a little on Internet cafes.
It wouldn’t be the first time. Again, DeWine’s past mistakes are many:
- His interpretation of state law related to the Highway Patrol put rank and file troopers at risk of litigation and required a new law to fix the problem.
- His misunderstanding about reporting felonies likely means the three most complicit witnesses in the Steubenville rape will never be charged with a crime.
- His multiple bad calls on voting rights laws caused DeWine to hire expensive out-of-state lawyers to argue in favor of restricting voting access only to lose multiple appeals on multiple cases.
DeWine clearly thought he could use the Internet cafe issue to bolster his campaign resume, but the rush for political points and positive press isn’t getting the response DeWine had hoped for.
Local prosecutors are taking a wait-and-see approach to his directive, a judge has warned law enforcement to stop raiding Internet cafes and at least one case has been dismissed because DeWine’s office failed to provide the expertise and assistance he promised to deliver.
DeWine made a big show out of raiding and shutting down Internet cafes in Cuyahoga County, and he got a lot of press for his new Internet gaming unit. The true test will come when we find out if Mike DeWine can turn the hype and rhetoric into results in court.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As Ohio Senate leaders race to ban Internet cafes, public officials have discovered there may be a lot fewer sweepstakes parlors in Ohio than they initially estimated.
Attorney General Mike DeWine's office has consistently tallied the number of operating Internet cafes in Ohio at 800 or so, based on information compiled through an affidavit registry. But one influential Republican says that number is closer to about 515.
Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, said he and other Ohio senators were told at a Tuesday briefing that the number of cafes in Ohio had been overestimated. According to Seitz, DeWine was among more than a dozen government officials, including Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien and Ohio Public Safety Director Tom Charles, who briefed legislators on sweepstakes parlors in Ohio -- a briefing that ultimately prodded the Senate to take action against the industry.
Internet cafes sell computer and phone time with sweepstakes games added as a bonus. Customers use terminals resembling slot machines to play the games. A bill essentially outlawing Internet cafes swiftly passed through the Ohio House last month, and Senate President Keith Faber, who called the cafes illegal, has vowed to move the legislation through the Senate by the end of May. Faber also said that lawmakers who received campaign contributions connected to the industry would return them.
Internet cafe owners and supporters say the businesses are legitimate under Ohio law. The accusations lobbed against the industry are a smear campaign, they say, organized by Ohio casinos to take out their competitors.
In 2012, lawmakers adopted a moratorium on Internet cafes, which expires in late June 2013. The moratorium forbids new cafes from opening in the state and requires all operating ones to register by affidavit with the attorney general's office.
More than 820 affidavits were filed with DeWine's office. But Peter Thomas, head of DeWine's Charitable Law Division, testified at a Thursday hearing to extend the moratorium that investigators had discovered within the last three to five days that many of those affidavits were either duplicates or registered cafes that do not exist.
Dan Tierney, spokesman for the attorney general's office, said later in an interview that there are numerous explanations for those affidavits. He explained that some locations had filed more than once and others may have been a result of prospective operators trying to beat the moratorium deadline but never actually opening cafes.
"When they went out and looked for the 800 Internet cafes that had filed some form or fashion of affidavit, they found only around 500 of them are actually open or still open," Seitz said in an interview. "The point is, this claptrap about 800 is vastly overstated and always has been."
Tierney could not give an updated estimate on the number of cafes in Ohio, but Thomas said at the hearing that 500 was "probably close." He added, in response to questioning, that the number was significantly fewer than 800.
"There is no regulation of any kind of this entity; you don't know how many there are," Tierney said. "The affidavit process has been the first time there has been any measurement of their presence in the state."
Sen. Dave Burke, a Central Ohio Republican heading a committee considering the new moratorium, said he hopes to move the bill out of committee by as soon as next week.
The new moratorium would include more stringent rules than its predecessor, stipulating that all cafe operators register information "including, but not limited to, the appropriate names, as determined by the attorney general, of owners or employees of the establishment, the date that the establishment began conducting sweepstakes through the use of a sweepstakes terminal device and the date that the establishment began making such sweepstakes available to the general public."
The moratorium, with the governor's signature, would go into immediate effect. All cafe operators would have 30 days to register with the attorney general's office. Failing to do so would result in daily fines as high as $1,000, among other penalties, Faber said.
Rex Santus is a Kent State University journalism student and a fellow in The E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau at Ohio University.
Columbus -- Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine launched a new effort April 17 to shut down Internet Cafes -- and followed up later in the day by raiding a half a dozen sweepstakes parlors in Cleveland and seizing related bank accounts.
In a morning briefing with officers and prosecutors from across the state, DeWine announced the formation of a working group in his office to assist in local prosecutions of sweepstakes parlor operators.
"The law is clear, and I intend to enforce the law," he said. "In fact I feel I have no choice but to enforce the law. I intend to work with these officers, these chiefs of police and these prosecutors here today and others around the state to make sure that Ohio law is enforced and that this illegal gambling is eliminated."
DeWine said a lack of action by state lawmakers, combined with a new appeals court decision, pushed his office to act.
"[The indication is] the Senate is not going to move for some time, and we have an obligation to now enforce the law," DeWine said, adding, "We are now committed to fight this battle county to county and courthouse to courthouse … When there is gambling that is out in the open, it's right in our face, when people are flaunting the law and making a mockery of the law in the state of Ohio and laughing at us … we have to take action."
But the attorney representing sweepstakes parlors in the appeals court case said DeWine's decision is "just plain wrong," and lawmakers already have defined and established the legality of sweepstakes parlors in state law, via legislation that placed a moratorium on their operation and registration requirements.
"As long as you meet the definition and you filed your affidavit, you're protected," said Don Malarcik. "I'm disappointed and a little disheartened by the attorney general's office, but any reliance on [the 8th District Court of Appeals decision] to prosecute cafes today is improper."
DeWine has called for a crackdown on Internet cafes for more than two years, backing law changes offered and passed by the Ohio House that have stalled in the Ohio Senate.
Multiple bills have been introduced directed at what have commonly been called Internet Cafes, 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.
About 800 of the businesses have registered with the state to date, though a moratorium on new storefront openings is currently in place until the end of June.
Earlier this year, the Ohio House passed a new version of the Internet café legislation that would ban cash payouts or merchandize prizes worth more than $10, with additional language added to ensure other businesses could continue to offer sweepstakes contests, including McDonald's oft-mentioned Monopoly promotion.
DeWine and other supporters have said the legislation would effectively shutter the bulk of the sweepstakes parlors currently operating in the state and stop unregulated gambling and potential illicit activities that sometimes come with such establishments.
But parlor owners and some other lawmakers have countered that the proposed law changes would hurt legitimate business enterprises and will potentially cost the state thousands of jobs.
DeWine has long said he believes the businesses are operating illegally, but earlier lower court decisions and some ambiguity in state law have made it difficult for prosecutors to shut them down.
A recent appeals court decision, DeWine said, clearly stated that the businesses are offering illegal gambling paving the way for the April 17 raid in the Cleveland area. But the attorney general still wants lawmakers to act on the issue.
"Ultimately, Ohio still needs legislation to support these law enforcement efforts to enforce Ohio gambling laws," he said in a released statement. "Absent legislation, the cost of these enforcement actions will bear a heavy burden on local sheriffs, police, and prosecutors as these cases will play out in court. It will be tough, but we will fight them one case at a time across the state."
Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains, who was on hand for the April 17 briefing in Columbus, said he has taken a wait-and-see approach to the issue, hoping for either lawmaker action or a definitive court decision.
"It would really be nice if the legislature would give us some guidance," he said, adding, "If you're dealing with cash, and apparently [sweepstakes parlors] are, and they're unregulated, and that's the biggest concern," he said. "The potential for other crimes? Absolutely -- money laundering, we don't know where the proceeds are going … A lot of these funds are going out of the state and out of the country."
Republican senators, however, have put the brakes on the legislation, with no action expected in the near future as the chamber shifts its attention to the biennial operating budget.
Senate President Keith Faber told reporters April 17 that he was supportive of an extension of the moratorium on Internet cafe openings, but he said more work was needed on other law changes.
"We've had differences of opinions as to whether they're illegal now," he said "If they're illegal now, why do we need another law to make them further illegal? If they're legal now, then we need to take a look at what we do with them."
He added, "I don't think anybody in our caucus believes that Internet cafes should just be left to do what they're doing now."
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CLEVELAND, Ohio-- The owner of a company that supplies software to many Internet cafes in Ohio targeted 24 state legislators for campaign contributions shortly before a critical vote affecting his industry, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty said Friday.
McGinty released documents seized from the New Jersey company earlier this week that show the targets of the lobbying campaign included four House members, three of whom joined a minority voting against a bill that would effectively eliminate the state's 800 or so cafes. (See the documents in the viewers below)
The remaining 20 lawmakers are in the Republican-controlled Senate. The legislation has stalled there, to the dismay of cafe opponents, who believe the storefront businesses operate as illegal gambling parlors.
A March 5 email instructed a company representative to have Ohio cafe owners write $1,000 checks to the Senate Republican campaign committee and $250 checks to the campaigns of the House and Senate members. Whether the checks were delivered remains unclear because lawmakers have until July to report their latest contributions.
McGinty said the email account is controlled by Phillip Cornick, operator of VS2 Worldwide Communications. The prosecutor contends the company, based in Monmouth County, N.J., is the leader of a multi-state Internet gambling syndicate. Cornick and VS2 face racketeering and other gambling-related charges in Common Pleas Court.
Industry representatives say the cafes supplied by VS2 and other companies sell Internet or telephone time and, as a marketing tool, offer the chance to play slotslike computerized sweepstakes game. They say legislation passed last year guarantees the cafes can operate until June 30 while the state considers regulation.
Federal, state and local authorities raided six Cleveland-area cafes and VS2 headquarters in New Jersey on Wednesday, searching for evidence of illegal gambling and other criminal activity. The email was among correspondence and other items that were seized.
Senators named in the email include Republican President Keith Faber, Democratic minority leader Eric Kearney and assistant minority leader, Joe Schiavoni, and six of the 11 members of the Government Oversight and Reform Committee, which is handling the Internet caf legislation.
The Senate has indicated that it may not act until next year. In the meantime, Attorney General Mike DeWine has taken the position that the cafes are illegal and created a special unit that will help county prosecutors shut down the storefront businesses.
John McClelland, spokesman for the Senate majority, said the Senate quickly held a first hearing on the bill, and the party's caucus will get information on the raids next week. But he said the chamber will not be pushed into moving hastily on a complex issue.
"The Senate is a deliberative body," McClelland said. "We are taking the time we need to look at this issue of Internet cafes, and gaming as a whole, in depth."
Legislators reached Friday by The Plain Dealer said they were not certain why they were singled out, and most said they did not know without checking whether they had received contributions. Some said they were likely to vote for banning sweepstakes operations.
"I've made it clear to everyone, including my colleagues, that these things are illegal and should be shut down," said Sen. Shannon Jones, a Southwest Ohio Republican. "I hope for the opportunity to do just that in the Senate."
Similar regulations were proposed late last year in the House, only to die when the Senate failed to act by Dec. 31. Sen. Randy Gardner, a Republican from Bowling Green and member of the House at the time, voted for the bill and said he expected to do so again.
Sen. Capri Cafaro, a Youngstown-area Democrat, speculated that she was selected because she sits on a joint House-Senate committee that is examining the future of gaming in Ohio.
Cafaro said she could support regulation that allows cafes to continue operating but doesn't think it's appropriate to take money from the industry while the issue is pending. She said she returned a $500 check from a contributor with an Internet cafe connection and is holding on to another check to see whether the donor has ties.
"If they are attached to Internet cafes," she said, "I'll return that, too."
Rep. Michael Stinziano, a Columbus Democrat, said he was not aware of receiving any campaign contributions from Internet-cafe interests in the period leading up to the House vote on March 13. He said he voted against the bill to eliminate the industry because he believes the cafes are allowed under state law.
"If they are illegal gambling, shut them down and get them out of Ohio," he said. But he said that determination should be made by a court, not the legislature.
VS2 Worldwide Communications also was active in rounding up campaign contributions from cafe owners last September, according to another email seized this week from the company.
The email, from VS2 lobbyist David Robinson to what McGinty says is Cornick's account, stressed the need to prepare for separate Sept. 12 receptions with House and Senate Republicans at the Athletic Club of Columbus. The correspondence talks about organizing a "good crowd of 10 cafe owners" to attend, adding a draft invitation that said it was important for the group to wear dresses or suits and ties.
"We need to collect the fundraising checks as soon as we can," Robinson wrote. "The political folks are hoping we have checks at the Sept. 12 event."
The seized records do not indicate whether any checks were delivered.
Last week, after the Senate committee held up the House-backed regulation, Republican senators dined with representatives of the caef industry at a Columbus restaurant, according to a story that ran Sunday in the Columbus Dispatch. The get-together was moved from another restaurant after a Dispatch reporter showed up uninvited.
McClelland told The Plain Dealer that the meeting was for fact finding and that a Republican campaign committee paid for the senators' meals. He said the event had been on the senators' calendars for weeks.
Written with Plain Dealer Reporter Peter Krouse
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Federal, state and local police raided six Internet cafes in Cuyahoga County on Wednesday, seizing video terminals and cash while searching for evidence of illegal gambling and other criminal activity.
Attorney General Mike DeWine and Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty say it’s just the beginning and part of a statewide crackdown on such cafes, which DeWine calls illegal mini casinos.
An attorney for one of the raided cafes, though, said it was DeWine, McGinty and law enforcement authorities who were violating the law, and he intends to ask Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court today to demand that they explain their actions.
In Columbus just hours before the raids, DeWine briefed dozens of law enforcement officials from across Ohio on how to prosecute Internet sweepstakes cafes and shut them down. At the briefing, he announced a new Internet gaming unit in the attorney general’s office to help them investigate.
The special unit includes members of DeWine's staff with expertise on gambling and charitable gaming, as well as investigators from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation. He also announced a 24-hour hotline has been established for law enforcement to call for help.
Last week, DeWine signaled that he was ready to go after the sweepstakes parlors, bolstered by a recent ruling in the 8th District Ohio Court of Appeals -- the appellate court for Cuyahoga County -- that several cafes were operating as illegal gambling houses.
He vowed to work with law enforcement to "deal with them."
He repeated that pledge at his briefing Wednesday morning for representatives of police chiefs, sheriffs and county prosecutors at the Columbus Police Training Academy.
"In our office we always believed these places were illegal. Now we're armed with a court decision which makes this crystal clear," DeWine said. “The court described these operations as a ‘patently obvious gambling scheme,’ ‘a system devised to skirt the law,’ and an ‘attempt to legitimize illegal gambling.’ “
He said the new unit would "assist however we are needed." That will include advice, help with court cases or providing covert investigation where necessary, he said.
DeWine and other opponents of the Internet cafes argue that they are fronts for illegal gambling and other serious crime, such as human trafficking and money laundering.
The attorney general said he would have preferred that the legislature act to make the sweepstakes cafes clearly illegal, but the Ohio Senate has indicated that it may wait as long as a year to act on legislation regulating the cafes.
Given that, DeWine said his office will help prosecutors pursue individual cases against the sweepstakes cafes for operating illegal gaming businesses.
“We have an obligation to now enforce the law. This is not the easy way to do it. This is, frankly, the hard way,” DeWine said. “We are now committed to fight this battle county by county, from courthouse to courthouse. And that’s exactly what this fight will be.”
Supporters of the businesses say the games, which cafes include as a bonus with purchased phone time, are not illegal under Ohio law and are no different from promotional gimmicks offered by fast-food restaurants.
They criticized DeWine last week, noting that the appeals court ruling pertained to arrests made before the Ohio legislature's passage of a bill that allowed already operating Internet cafes to remain open as long as they registered with DeWine's office. They called DeWine's comments reckless and said he was going after lawfully operating businesses.
DeWine scoffed at that notion Wednesday. He said they clearly are different from promotional gimmicks, and cited figures in support of his argument that the businesses were illegal gaming operations:
A published report noted that 40 percent of the people seeking treatment for gambling addiction at a Columbus facility cited internet sweepstakes parlors as their preferred choice for gaming.
Currently there are 8,412 slot machines in Ohio’s legal casinos. If each of the 794 internet cafes registered with the attorney general has 15 terminals, something DeWine pegged as a conservative estimate, they would total 11,910 machines.
Studies from other states found internet cafe users purchasing massive amounts of cell phone time that would require talking 24 hours a day for months before that time would be used up.
At internet cafes, customers pay for Internet or telephone access and in return are given cards to play terminal games.
“People are not going into these facilities to buy phone time, and they’re not going into these facilities to buy Internet time. We’re not that stupid,” DeWine said.
“A customer who buys a burger at a McDonald’s restaurant and gets a scratch off card is different, DeWine said. “That’s not illegal. No one, that I’m aware of, in their right mind walks into a McDonald’s and buys 40 Big Macs and throws them in the trash and uses the 40 scratch off cards.”
Wednesday’s raids in Cuyahoga County took place at the Players Club at 26193 Euclid Ave. in Cleveland, the Emerald Isle at 22574 Lakeshore Blvd. in Euclid; the Crystal Sports Bar at 3357 Fulton Road and the Collinwood Cyber Café at 15624 Lakeshore Blvd., both in Cleveland; and Infinity 2 at 30670 Detroit Rd., and Loco Leprechaun at 24545 Center Ridge Rd., both in Westlake.
Nobody was arrested. The county prosecutor’s office declined to provide the names of the café owners.
Police began their raids around noon, expecting to seize about 350 video terminals from the six cafes. They also seized $525,000 from bank accounts in the names of the businesses, said Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Dan Kasaris.
Authorities also raided VS2 Worldwide Communications, a company in New Jersey that prosecutors say provides the software to three of the raided cafes. A Cuyahoga County grand jury has previously indicted VS2, charging it with gambling-related crimes.
Attorney Mike Nelson said the Collinwood Cyber Café, owned by his client Tommy Ny, was operating in accordance with state law and a temporary restraining order issued last year by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Nancy Margaret Russo.
“That means that they are legitimate,” Nelson said.
Nelson planned to go to court today to try and force McGinty and DeWine to explain why they violated Russo’s restraining order.
Joe Rice, who represents Infinity 2, said police took machines, cash, television screens and memorabilia from the establishment, which is owned by Robbie Rogers.
Rice said police frightened two women so much that a retired officer who also was in the café yelled at the police.
At the news conference with McGinty outside the Players Club, DeWine said the revenue from cafes across the state is in the hundreds of millions, if not into the billions of dollars.
Unlike regulated casinos and racetracks, which pay out about 85 percent of their proceeds to their gambling customers, the payouts to players in Internet cafes are rigged and unknown, DeWine said.
“In here,” DeWine said, referring to the club behind him, “we have no clue.”
With Peter Krouse, Plain Dealer Reporter