By Marc Kovac
The state Controlling Board will decide next week whether to approve the purchase of up to 1,200 new gaming machines for use by licensed fraternal and veterans organizations.
The so-called “multipurpose, next generation” electronic devices would be offered by the Ohio Lottery Commission and would replace bingo raffle machines used at some posts and lodges that have been deemed illegal by the attorney general’s office.
Lottery officials say the plan will generate millions of dollars for the charities and Ohio’s schools, but affected groups say the proposal amounts to an unconstitutional intrusion.
“We think it stinks,” said Bill Seagraves, executive director of the Ohio Veterans and Charitable Coalition, adding, “We fought our war, we don’t deserve to be back here fighting the state of Ohio.”
The Lottery Commission has asked the lawmaker panel to approve about $18 million over two fiscal years to purchase the gaming machines, plus about $3 million in additional spending to operate them, said lottery spokeswoman Danielle Frizzi-Babb.
The terminals would be manufactured in Ohio by Intralot, which has provided systems for the state’s video-lottery terminal and other lottery games.
Frizzi-Babb said the new devices will be designated exclusively for veterans posts and fraternal lodges and will allow cash-paying patrons to play new lottery games with messages about wins and losses displayed electronically instead of via a printed ticket.
Licensed lodges and posts would be able to request up to five of the new gaming machines. Forty percent of the net proceeds would go to those locations, while 60 percent would be directed to educational purposes through the state’s lottery-profit fund.
Frizzi-Babb said the Lottery Commission has projected the machines, once fully implemented, would generate about $10 million annually for the state fund and $7 million for lodges and posts.
Lottery officials have been hosting open houses across the state to gauge groups’ interest. So far, Frizzi-Babb said, 188 posts and lodges have voiced an interest in offering one or more of the gaming devices at their sites, and another 200 have requested more information about the program.
Attorney General Mike DeWine ordered groups to remove electronic bingo machines from their premises last year, but a judge’s temporary restraining order has allowed their continued use during legal proceedings.
The attorney general’s decision late last year prompted an outcry from veterans and fraternal groups. The latter packed a Statehouse hearing room last month to show their support for legislation that would allow them to offer “charitable video bingo.”
Rep. Rick Perales of Beavercreek, a Republican and primary sponsor of the measure, said the law change would simply allow the groups “to play the same forms of bingo they already play, but in a more entertaining format,” with oversight from the attorney general.
Seagraves said his members don’t necessarily oppose the new lottery gaming machines, as long as they can continue to offer raffle games as they have over the past few years. “If they want to put their machines right next to ours, we don’t care.”