When a public hearing was held Jan. 23 on the moratorium for skill game rooms and Internet sweepstakes cafes in Marysville, the only thing missing was the public.

When a public hearing was held Jan. 23 on the moratorium for skill game rooms and Internet sweepstakes cafes in Marysville, the only thing missing was the public.

Three business owners affected by the moratorium - a vendor, one resident and council vice president Tracy Richardson - attended Marysville City Council's public affairs committee meeting on the issue.

The moratorium was put into place at the December city council meeting when Mayor John Gore proposed emergency legislation regarding the controversial businesses. Gore expressed frustration that the state attorney general's office had not ruled on the matter, leaving the city to handle the issue on its own.

Council agreed and put a six-month moratorium in place in order to study the issue and hear from the public.

Deborah Groat, who chairs the public affairs committee, said the committee will address the issue at every monthly meeting from now until the end of the moratorium.

"The position I would like this committee to take would be to come in line with some suggestions, some reasonable legislation, regulation, or zoning while waiting for the state to make a decision," Groat said.

City Planner Greg Delong pointed out that some cities keep reissuing or extending similar moratoriums in anticipation of the state of Ohio making a final decision on the subject.

"I think Marysville can be more proactive," Groat said.

She told the business owners in attendance that she definitely wants to regulate businesses involving gaming.

"I don't think that's ever going to be in the best interest of the city to have any businesses totally unregulated, especially since it's not over a commission already," she said. "So I really think in the next six months, we as a committee need to consider, 'where does Marysville want to go with this?'"

While very few people attended the public hearing, Steve Marston, a vendor, said that was partly his fault.

"I asked Mr. Berbee (councilman Henk) 'Do we need to have attorneys here tonight?' He said, 'no.' I have about 40 or 50 customers that want to come. He said, 'no, not for this meeting. It'd be best if the game owners just came themselves. So that's where that came from. All I did was tell the customers, 'don't show up.' We didn't want it to be like a circus," said Marston.

Marston said there were about 200 customers who wanted to talk.

"They don't want you to take away their social place," he said. "A couple of ladies asked us the other day, 'Is there a chance of them closing this place?' I said, 'I hope not.' And they actually, really started crying," Marston said.

Groat said the committee wants to do what is in the best interest of all the people of Marysville.

Marston said he and the other three business owners were fine with some sort of regulation. "We don't have a problem if you make it reasonable to pay a license fee or a machine fee," he said. "I don't have a problem with that at all."

Jim Glass, owner of the Internet Sweepstakes Café, invited the committee to visit the businesses. Groat and the other two committee members, J.R. Rausch and Berbee, said they would like to visit the businesses to get a firsthand look at what happens there.

Groat said she thought the first meeting went very well.

"I thought the business owners were very forthcoming with information," she said. "I think they corrected some of my ignorance. They defined some terms. There are still questions out there."

Groat said she knows that something has to be done but isn't sure what the committee's next step will be.

"This cannot go completely unlegislated with no oversight," she said. "If they're not responsible to another oversight group, it's not in the best interest of the people of Marysville to ignore it in terms of legislation or zoning."

The committee chair says she sees both sides of the debate over the issue.

"On one level you have this laissez-faire attitude: These are businesses," she said. "Business is good for Marysville and we want to support it. On the other end of the spectrum, people think it's morally incorrect to play these things and we need to take care of people morally. We'll have to decide how we best serve our citizens.

"There will be reasonable oversight from the city of Marysville. We will work with these businesses to define what is 'reasonable oversight.' I don't know if it's going to be in the form of zoning, in the form of an ordinance, or in the form of licensing. I can't tell you how it's going to look."

The next step for the committee is to keep the issue on the monthly agenda.

"Ideally, at the end of May, or maybe even sooner, we will come back with a recommendation to council as to what we feel is best for the city of Marysville," she said. "We're going to work very closely with Mr. Emery, the city administrator, and we're going to work closely with Mr. Aslaner, the city law director. We're going to continue to hear from the businesses. That group of people, I think, is really looking for what's going to benefit the city."

So far, the committee has heard from the business owners and it appears it will soon hear from the customers. But Groat was surprised there was no one to speak against the gaming businesses at the meeting.

"Eventually, I want to hear every side," she said. "I think that's so important."

But she says they have to draw a line between what is moral and what is legal.

"Let me caution anybody who feels that this is a moral issue," she said. "It's going to be legally very difficult to use morality as a reason to control, license, or zone a business. I don't think there's anybody on the public affairs committee who wants morality to be the operational concept. It can't. Legally, it can't. I can't take my morality and legislate what's going to happen to a business."

She said the committee will proceed with caution and keep in touch with the state through the city law director.

"Maybe the state will walk in and say everything you're doing is a moot point," she said. "In which case, fine. At least we've fully vetted it and given the businesses the dignity they deserve."