The Ohio Lottery is looking at placing new electronic gambling devices in fraternal lodges and veterans’ halls across the state. Before it does so, the state needs to clarify the status of gambling that already occurs in these venues.
The new “multipurpose next-generation” machines would replace electronic raffle machines that fraternal groups have used outside the lottery’s purview for several years. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has declared that the older machines represent an illegal extension of gambling.
Mr. DeWine also said recently that the next-generation machines would be unconstitutional, because they wouldn’t contribute enough of the money they generate to Ohio public schools — the ostensible purpose of the state lottery.
The Columbus Dispatch has reported that lottery contractor Intralot Inc. would supply the next-generation machines, collecting 60 percent of their proceeds for the first 3½ years. Fraternal and veterans’ groups would get 25 percent of the take, and the lottery’s education fund the remaining 15 percent. Intralot’s lobbyists include several close associates of Gov. John Kasich, the newspaper reported.
Veterans’ groups are upset at the proposed split. The Kasich administration says the proposal is misunderstood and was just preliminary anyway. Lottery officials express confidence that everything can be worked out.
The state appears to want to bring under the lottery’s umbrella the formerly independent gambling operations of the fraternal groups. A court order allows the groups to continue using their raffle machines until June, when a trial will determine whether what they have been doing is legal. The groups say all they’ve done over the past two years is update raffles they used to run with paper.
Bill Seagraves, executive director of the Ohio Veterans and Fraternal Charitable Coalition, says that without state interference, coalition members have used their raffles to give millions of dollars to veterans’ and other charitable organizations throughout the state. If the lottery takes over, he says, Intralot would benefit, but veterans’ groups would get too little to cover expenses and give to charity.
A bill before the state House would allow veterans’ organizations to continue running their raffles and giving proceeds to charity. The state allows nonprofit groups to run bingo games and raffles.
Lawmakers need to clarify the legality of what the veterans’ groups are doing. In the meantime, they might also consider whether Ohio needs any further expansion of legalized gambling.