April 21, 2014

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State house passes gaming machine ban

COLUMBUS — Bars and storefront parlors will not be allowed to hand out cash prizes for games similar to slot machines under a bill that cleared the House Wednesday with surprising ease.

The legislation drew just 13 “no” votes in the 99-member House, which is controlled by Republicans. Many members in the House support expanded gambling, but Speaker Jon Husted said lawmakers felt that multiplying the number of tabletop gambling machines was not the way to do it.

The bill, which also limits the value of non-cash prizes for such games at $10, now goes to the Senate, where President Bill Harris is expected to put it on a fast track. It then would become law upon Gov. Ted Strickland’s signature.
Strickland, a Democrat, has tried to use executive power to stop the games from entering the state.

The bill contains an emergency clause, meaning it takes effect right away, and opponents would not have the chance to collect petitions to force a referendum.

Under the bill, operators who make cash payouts could face six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for a first offense and one year in prison for a second offense.

David Corey, executive vice president of the Ohio Coin Machine Association, said lawmakers had told him an exception would be made for operators to award cash at tournaments for games such as pool and darts. However, Husted said he did not want to leave a possible loophole for continuing the payouts for tabletop games such as Tic Tac Fruit, in which bettors try to line up pieces of fruit on a video screen.

“Everything we were told that they were going to allow for cash prizes for tournament play wasn’t done. Basically, we were lied to,” Corey said.

Twenty-seven Lorain County establishments operate with the Tic Tac Fruit game.

Husted spokeswoman Karen Tabor said the tournament exception was just another option available to majority Republicans as they drafted language for the amendment. “That was not the one the (GOP) caucus chose,” she said.

Husted said he was closing off potential trouble by not allowing the exception.

“If you don’t close that, you’re essentially opening yourself up for the next generation of ‘skill games.’ They’ll call them tournaments rather than just one-on-one games with machines,” Husted said after the vote.