Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced Friday that his office received 667 affidavits from owners of Internet cafes under a law that puts a moratorium on any new electronic sweepstakes parlors.
In a county-by-county breakdown, Trumbull County filed the fifth-most Internet cafes in the state with 37, and Mahoning County tied for seventh-most with Montgomery County with 29. Cuyahoga County had the most with 75.
All sweepstakes establishments in existence and operating prior to the effective date of the legislation, which was June 11, were required to complete an affidavit of existence. The deadline to submit the affidavits to the Attorney General's Office was Wednesday.
Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins has said he views the cafes as illegal and unregulated, but the only legal tests for the gaming was in Warren, where charges were dismissed in two court cases that neither Watkins or members of his staff prosecuted.
The total number reported this week is more than twice as high as an earlier total of 280 tallied statewide by the Attorney General's Office staff in March of 2012. The cafes still are primarily located north of Interstate I-70.
"These Internet cafes are multiplying at an alarming rate, and I again am encouraging the Ohio General Assembly to act swiftly to regulate them with the same scrutiny as other forms of gaming in Ohio," DeWine said.
"Ohioans currently have no way of knowing that these games are what the cafes report them to be or if they are being completely ripped off by the owners."
The huge number of parlors is capable of generating hundreds of millions of unregulated cash, he said.
DeWine first called for the regulation of Internet cafes in March of 2011. With the advent of "racinos" at racetracks and the new casinos that have opened in Cleveland and Toledo, many Ohioans may assume that all types of gambling are legal and regulated by the state, he said.
State Sen. Joe Schiavoni said another bill he sponsored to regulate Internet cafes received two committee hearings before the Senate broke in mid-June. Instead, lawmakers, in the state's mid-budget review bill put a temporary stop to opening new cafes and required existing cafes to file the affidavits with the state.
He was opposed to the moratorium in favor of regulations, saying placing a limit on new cafes doesn't address present issues now.
''If we are going to have these in the state, then I believe they should be regulated properly,'' said Schiavoni, D-Canfield.
While two cases were dismissed, charges are still pending against the five others charged with operating and owning the two other cafes, Warren Law Director Greg Hicks said. But without legislation or regulations, he is stuck in a holding pattern awaiting some legal direction on the cases, he said Saturday.
He also said he is monitoring cases in the Cleveland area, where charges also were thrown out of court.
In a typical Internet cafe, customers pay for Internet time or phone cards and use them to bet points on computers loaded with games. Winners can get cash or merchandise prizes, such as canned coffee or car wax. Some sites also offer services, including regular Internet service, food and drinks.
The difference between illegal establishments and legal ones, prosecutors say, is the amount of cash prizes a customer can win from playing the "sweepstakes" games offered by the businesses and if the games they provide are games of chance, rather than skill-based games.
Cafe owners have argued they offer phone cards that give customers Internet time and can use the computer to surf the Web as they wish. They say the sweepstakes part of the experience is simply a marketing tool.
"It's tougher to set up a bingo game for a local church than to set up an Internet cafe," Watkins has said. "There are more regulations in the Ohio Revised Code for bingo games, than for Internet cafes."
Hicks, who like Watkins views the cafes as illegal, said he simply wants some direction: ''If they're legal, then regulate them. If they're illegal, then say so. At this point, the problem is in Columbus.''