Internet cafes are getting scrutiny from city officials in Tiffin and Fostoria. But let us be clear: Elected leaders aren't preparing to regulate coffee shops that offer free Wi-Fi.
No, the businesses drawing attention often are called Internet sweepstakes cafes. Inside, customers receive sweepstakes entries - typically loaded on plastic swipe cards - as a way to promote the purchase of Internet time. The patrons then can surf the Web or check email; however, most spend the time playing computer games - which can bear uncanny resemblance to video slot machines - to see whether they have won any prizes.
In theory, the sweepstakes are like those used to promote fast-food chains. To an observer, it may look like gambling. And to some patrons, it offers a similar experience.
But is it gambling?
If an internet sweepstakes cafe follows federal rules, no. For example, no matter how realistic a video game may simulate a deer hunt, it would be ludicrous to require players to obtain hunting licenses and doe tags.
But how does one know whether the operator is following the rules? That's one objective of governmental oversight. In the absence of state regulations, local officials may want to craft and enforce their own.
Local government officials in Tiffin and Fostoria are considering that now. That approach makes sense, if governmental entities want to make sure patrons aren't being cheated and illegal gambling doesn't occur.
Plus, city coffers could collect regulatory fees. The local governments may be the only entities guaranteed to make money.