Ohio AG creates Internet cafe advisory unit; search warrants executed at 6 cafes in Cuyahoga County

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Search warrants were executed at six storefront gambling-like operations known as Internet cafes Wednesday as Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced new efforts by his office to prosecute what he says are illegal gambling operations.

DeWine also said several bank accounts were seized as part of the operation, and he planned a news conference at a Cleveland fast-food restaurant Wednesday afternoon to discuss the operation.

Here's a list of the businesses that were part of the sting:
- Crystal Sports Bar, 3357 Fulton Road, Cleveland
- Collinwood Sweepstakes Café, 15624 Lakeshore Blvd., Cleveland
- Emerald Isle, 22574 Lakeshore Blvd., Euclid
- Infinity 2, 30670 Detroit Rd., Westlake
- Loco Leprechaun, 24545 Center Ridge Rd., Westlake
- Players Club, 26193 Euclid Avenue, Euclid

Earlier in the day, DeWine advised dozens of prosecutors and police at a law enforcement briefing in Columbus on ways to investigate the cafes. He also announced an internal advisory group to assist police and prosecutors.

DeWine said he's taking his authority to prosecute the cafes for illegal gambling from a district court ruling that declared the cafes in Cleveland to be illegal. DeWine also repeated his request that lawmakers approve a bill currently stalled in the Senate to regulate the cafes.

However, any law could still raise constitutional questions because the question of permitting the cafes as gambling operations has not been put to a statewide vote. "That is obviously an issue," said Peter Thomas, head of DeWine's Charitable Law division.

DeWine said he's being forced to take what he calls "the hard way" in criminally investigating the cafes because of the Cleveland appeals court decision and the lack of legislative action.

Part of his news conference Wednesday morning was an effort to drive that point home to lawmakers. He said prosecuting these cafes is complicated and costly, and police already have their hands full around the state with everything from overdose deaths from heroin and illegally obtained prescription painkiller sales to child abuse and child pornography investigations.

"This is not the easy way to do it," DeWine said. "This frankly is the hard way. We are now committed to fight this battle county by county and courthouse to courthouse, and that's exactly what this fight will be."

Backers of the businesses say they are legal and help the economy, and they say the Cleveland appeals court ruling extends only to cafes in that city. They also point to a Toledo appeals court ruling that upheld the cafes' legality.

In Euclid, in suburban Cleveland, investigators raided an Internet cafe and hauled equipment out of the business. The operations have been ripping off the elderly and vulnerable, said Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Tim McGinty.

"They and their lobbyists in Ohio, Florida and other states have been laughing all the way to the bank," he said. "Well, the party's over and we plan on walking them right into jail."

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