By Marc Kovac
With less than a week before the first of Ohio’s new casinos opens its doors, state lawmakers continue to haggle over legislation regulating legalized gambling in the state.
The Ohio Senate approved House Bill 386 on a vote of 29-3 Wednesday, but the Ohio House rejected changes made by the other chamber, sending the legislation to a conference committee to negotiate an agreeable alternative.
Rep. Lou Blessing, a Republican from Cincinnati and original sponsor of the legislation, said he wanted one or two more weeks to consider changes made by the Senate.
“I think ... we need some more time to take a look at this because it’s so complex, it’s overreaching,” Blessing said.
House Bill 386 seeks to update Ohio’s gaming laws to accommodate four new casi-nos, charitable gaming and lottery-operated electronic slots at horse tracks.
Among other provisions, it would expand the definition of corrupt activities to include cheating at casino games and would increase penalties against those who attempt to bribe casino operators, managers or commission members.
It also would define the casino-control commission as a law-enforcement agency enabled to investigate potential crimes, seize evidence and arrest individuals for gaming offenses.
The bill includes rules to accommodate the relocation of racetracks in Columbus and Toledo to the Youngstown and Dayton areas, respectively.
It restricts the use of the word “casino” in advertising, sets aside up to 1 percent of video lottery sales commissions to support gambling and related addiction services and requires the withholding of income taxes on VLT winnings of more than $3,000.
Additionally, the bill places a moratorium on the opening of new Internet cafes and requires existing sweepstakes parlors to submit affidavits to the attorney general’s office within 30 days of the new law’s effective date.
Senators removed from the final bill language related to charity card rooms, which some criticized as opening the door to casino-style gaming in all 88 Ohio counties.
Backers of the original language, however, said they were trying to limit the expansion of such card rooms, allowing only one in each county at the direction of the county commissioners.
House Speaker Bill Batchelder, a Republican from Medina, said he expects the two chambers to review the bill and work out any differences in short order.
“My sense is that there are a carload of tough issues here, and I think one of the things we want to do is take a look at it,” he told reporters Wednesday. “That can probably be handled by the end of next week.”
The bill includes an emergency clause, meaning it would take effect as soon as it’s approved by lawmakers and signed by the governor.