Gaming parlors won’t fold


COLUMBUS

Attorney General Mike DeWine called last week for increased state oversight of so-called skill-based and sweepstakes amusement games.

It’s a worthy effort for him and the two Republican lawmakers who plan to carry proposed law changes in the state Legislature.

But I wonder how much of an impact it will have on the proliferation of what many average citizens would consider illegal gambling.

It was about four years ago that then-Attorney General Marc Dann, Gov. Ted Strickland and state lawmakers moved on other law changes aimed at limiting the operations of skill-based gaming parlors.

The bill capped prizes won from “mechanical, video, digital or electronic” devices at a wholesale value of $10. Cash, gift cards, lottery tickets, firearms, tobacco and alcoholic beverages can no longer be awarded as prizes.

Escalating penalties

Individuals found guilty of violating the law are subject to escalating penalties: A first time offense is considered a first-degree misdemeanor, while repeat offenders could face felony charges.

“The people of Ohio have spoken with a clear voice on this issue time and time again,” Strickland said after signing the bill. “They do not want an expansion of gambling in their state. I appreciate the General Assembly taking quick action to get these machines out of our state and out of our communities.”

The legislation may have forced the closing of some gaming parlors, but gaming has not stopped in Ohio. Instead, new businesses have sprouted in their place, offering sweepstakes games and online gambling — areas apparently not covered by the state’s skill-based gaming laws.

DeWine said the issue was brought to his attention during last year’s election campaign.

“I had a member of the VFW come to me and say, ‘We’re being unfairly impacted these so-called Internet cafes who you guys don’t regulate, the state doesn’t regulate... Our money goes to charity, their money does not,’” he said. “I had law enforcement people come up to me and say, ‘This is very, very difficult. Please, when you get to Columbus, work with the state Legislature to make the law clear.’”

Enter DeWine and Cleveland-area Reps. Nan Baker and Marlene Anielski, who plan to offer legislation that would require skill-based or sweepstakes machines to be certified and licensed by the Ohio Casino Control Commission before being played by the public.

DeWine said most of the gaming terminals operating in Ohio right now probably would not pass muster during the licensing process.

“It’s going to be very difficult for them under these conditions to exist,” he said. “Not impossible. It’s an economic decision that they will have to make, but it’s going to be difficult.”

Again, it’s a worthy effort. But there’s too much money at stake and too many smart lawyers who know how to jump through loopholes in state law to think gaming parlors or payday lenders or other operations are going to close shop and leave Ohio anytime soon.

Marc Kovac is The Vindicator Statehouse correspondent. E-mail him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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