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Published: Wednesday, 8/29/2007

Say no to gambling

OHIO voters have made it abundantly clear that they oppose expansion of legalized gambling, although that message hasn't gotten through to many businesses in the state.

Certain businesses - bars, pizza parlors, game rooms, and the like - have been flaunting the law against illegal games of chance for some time now with impunity. But not anymore.

To his credit, Gov. Ted Strickland aims to uphold the statute by cracking down on what are essentially video gambling machines.

Mr. Strickland recently signed an executive order outlawing the machines, which have inundated barrooms and game parlors across the state. These are extremely popular video games, with cash payouts.

They require multiple coins for continuous play and winning - just like slot machines, which are illegal, observed Attorney General Marc Dann. "If it looks like a slot machine, sounds like a slot machine, if it pays out cash, then it is a slot machine," he said.

The governor's order, which is being challenged in court by a game distributor, says the cash-paying video game terminals are illegal and must go. He gave business owners who feature games like Tic-Tac Fruit three days to get rid of them or face prosecution.

About 700 owners have been sent "cease and desist" letters informing them that the devices are in violation of state law. There are probably many more businesses similarly violating the law that are unknown to the state.

The gamers, as well as the manufacturers who supply the equipment, claim the machines are legitimate games of skill. But the state isn't buying that argument, nor should it.

Not when the outcomes of the games are randomly programmed and the percentage of winners controlled. Not when the odds are against those playing for cash. That's gambling by any name, and it's illegal in Ohio.

Ohioans have said they oppose any expansion of legal gambling, most recently last November, when voters defeated an issue that tried to legitimize casino wagering under the guise of funding college scholarships.

Still, the governor expects his order will be challenged by those who stand to lose money when the gambling terminals are unplugged. So he's asked the General Assembly to pre-emptively pass a measure leaving no doubt about what games constitute illegal gambling in Ohio.

Lawmakers should make clear that only strictly defined skill-based games of amusement are permitted, without cash prizes paid to random winners.

There can be no ambiguity or it's a sure bet that the unscrupulous will find another way to take a gambler's money.



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