STATE lawmakers have sent a clear message to the electronic gaming industry that Ohio laws on gambling will not be skirted. That dictate needed to be reinforced after thousands of electronic devices with cash payouts began popping up in bars, fraternal clubs, and video-game parlors across the state.
These so-called games of skill, which mimicked the outlawed slot machines, were hugely popular with patrons. They were also illegal, according to Attorney General Marc Dann, who tried to have them removed on order of the governor before the courts intervened, questioning his authority to write between the lines of the law.
Pending clarification of the existing gambling law, the state couldn't force bars and other businesses to yank games like Tic Tac Fruit or Match Um Up from their premises. But the legislature came through, not by decisively settling the difference between prohibited games of chance and legitimate games of skill, but by banning any cash prize or noncash prize valued at more than $10 per play.
If these games remain as popular without the cash payouts, we'll know money was never the motivating force behind their big demand. Otherwise, those of us who argued that the games were really illegal gambling machines masquerading as legal games of skill will be vindicated.
Gov. Ted Strickland, who is expected to sign the measure into law, and legislators, who overwhelmingly approved the bill, will be upholding the will of the people. Ohio voters have repeatedly rejected legalized gambling, most recently last November when they defeated proposals to introduce electronic slot machines to the state.
The new legislation is not about hounding ordinary folks enjoying a night out at the bowling alley or playing darts, as critics claim. "This is about people who deliberately set out to create and exploit an incredibly large loophole so that they could steal money from Ohioans, millions upon millions of dollars," said Sen. Jeff Jacobson, a Vandalia Republican.
As soon as the governor affixes his signature, that loophole will close. The quick bipartisan remedy was commendable.