By Marc Kovac and ROBERT CONNELLY
A state senator who heads a panel reviewing Ohio’s gaming regulations said Thursday he will seek no special investigations or law changes in response to a popular jackpot pool at a Mahoning County bar.
Sen. Bill Coley of Butler County, R-4th, said he does want to ensure laws are not broken and the applicable state and local agencies are able to monitor Barry Dyngles’ Queen of Hearts game.
Meanwhile in Austintown, local officials will meet this afternoon on what to do about next week’s Queen of Hearts drawing.
The meeting will consist of “tossing around ideas,” said Shawn Hannon, owner of Barry Dyngles, 1601 S. Raccoon Road.
The Austintown game of chance has drawn increasing attention, with a prize that has topped $750,000 and crowds estimated up to 8,000.
Township officials expressed concern with the growing crowds frequenting the stretch of Raccoon Road that has been shut down the past few Wednesday nights for Queen of Hearts’ drawings.
“ ... There’s people walking down some of the county roads – Raccoon and New roads – and we’re concerned,” said Mike Dockry, Austintown Township administrator and road superintendent. “I do know there’s been conversations prior to [Wednesday] night about changing the location.”
On Thursday, the game drew the attention of the state’s Joint Committee on Gaming and Wagering, with testimony from the attorney general’s office on legal and oversight issues.
With the game, patrons buy $1 tickets for a chance at pooled prize money. Funds are rolled over, and new drawings take place week after week until the game is won.
No one has won the jackpot in Austintown for nearly a year, including this Wednesday’s drawing.
The game, with all of the pooled funds paid out to winners, has been deemed legal, though it is subject to regulation by the state’s liquor control office, inspector general and tax officials. County prosecutors also could pursue legal action if they believe laws have been broken.
“Up to this point, we have no reason to believe that the regulatory agencies don’t have all the tools they need,” Coley said. “But we want to make sure that as a responsive Legislature, we ask those questions.”
“We’re making sure that all the records are properly kept and that all of the funds are disbursed according to law,” Coley said.
Pete Thomas, chief of the Ohio Attorney General’s charitable law section, said Thursday that the way the pub handles payouts when winners are not present could prompt legal questions.
In those cases, winners receive half of the pooled funds, with the other half rolled over into a new Queen of Hearts jackpot.
Hannon said he knows why the Queen of Hearts game has become a growing event.
“It’s given people hope. Everybody has that one chance to have that one ticket at $1 million and that brings a cohesive hope to the Valley that we’ve been lacking for some time,” Hannon said. “For having that many people, it’s a very docile crowd.”
Austintown Police Capt. Bryan Kloss said the drawing nights have been smooth, but he did receive a phone call Thursday morning from a person at Wednesday night’s drawing. That represents the first police report from the drawings.
Dockry received two complaints from area businesses and one from a person about the traffic congestion.
If Wednesday’s drawing is at Barry Dyngles, Dockry said the pub may need to hire even more off-duty officers to police the parking lot.
Restaurant general manager Doug Duganne told The Vindicator Wednesday night he hired eight off-duty officers for the drawing.
Kloss said scheduling for police officers has been shifted in recent weeks on Wednesdays “to accommodate the needs” in traffic control and patrols.
Barry Dyngles obtained a liquor permit for alcohol sales in the parking lot by filing for it with the restaurant owners and the Austintown Fraternal Order of Police, FOP. That is because that liquor specification requires a nonprofit beneficiary to ask for it, Kloss explained.
Hannon said the pub will give $1,000 from Wednesday night to the Austintown FOP.
There is a limit on outdoor liquor permits, one for an organization each 30 days, but Hannon said the pub will reach out to other township organizations for the next drawing.
Marc Kovac is The Vindicator’s Columbus correspondent. Email him at email@example.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.