COLUMBUS — Ohio’s governor and top law enforcer moved Wednesday to stomp out a proliferation of what they say are illegal gambling machines sneaking through a loophole in the law designed to help amusement venues like Chuck E. Cheese’s.
In his 28th executive order since January, Gov. Ted Strickland authorized Attorney General Marc Dann to issue an emergency rule on the electronic gambling machines burgeoning at bars, storefronts and fraternal clubs. Attorney General Marc Dann followed up by issuing 700 letters statewide ordering 50,000 of the machines shut down within the next three days.
Strickland said the number of machines he and Dann believe to be illegal under Ohio’s ban on games of chance has more than doubled from 20,000 to 50,000 in the past six months.
“Clever people ignoring the vote of the people of Ohio on two different occasions have increasingly attempted to pass off illegal gambling machines as skill-based amusement,” Strickland said during a news conference.
Strickland’s order Wednesday seeks to clarify the definitions for gaming devices, which under current law are legal if they require skill rather than chance — a distinction often impossible for law enforcers to determine by sight. Dann said he and the governor’s actions are seeking to separate the games instead by their intent — amusement or gambling.
“It can’t be an amusement machine if it’s a gambling machine. It’s as simple as that,” Dann said. The amusement games would still be legal under the rule.
It was the second time in as many months that the pair has attempted a crackdown.
In June, Strickland and Dann proposed a bill banning cash prizes from electronic tabletop machines and placing a $10 cap on the value of one-time non-cash prizes such as award tickets or prize vouchers at venues such as Chuck E. Cheese’s, Dave & Buster’s or Cedar Point.
Republican House Speaker Jon Husted said he was pleased Wednesday “that the governor and attorney general have finally seen the light on this issue.”
He expressed concern over the focus of the proposed legislation, instead calling for a complete ban on the machines.
Dann’s emergency rule makes it a crime under Ohio’s Consumer Sales Practices Act to market gambling devices as games of amusement.
David Corey, a spokesman for the Coin Machine Association of Ohio, said the games his members operate are all legal games of skill. He worried that Strickland and Dann’s action would hurt them while trying to identify gaming parlors that are breaking the law.
“We oppose gambling and always have,” he said. “We find the executive order troublesome because these are bona fide games of skill that reward players with types of prizes.”
Due to the statewide smoking ban, the hike in the minimum wage and other economic factors, bars, restaurants and bowling alleys statewide are struggling, Corey said, and tabletop video machines provide needed revenue to some such establishments.