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Published: Tuesday, 1/15/2002

Lawsuit will try to block Ohio from joining a multistate lottery


COLUMBUS - Church groups and anti-gambling activists plan to sue Ohio today over its decision to join a multistate lottery game such as Powerball or the Big Game. They argue that such a game would violate Ohio's Constitution.

Lottery opponents plan to ask a Franklin County judge to block the state from moving ahead with a multistate game.

"We hope the state will realize its mistake and give it up," Rev. John Edgar of the United Methodist Church said yesterday. "If we lose, we'll continue all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court."

The church groups will be joined by the Ohio Roundtable, a nonprofit public policy advocacy group. The Roundtable helped defeat issues on the 1990 and 1996 ballots that would have brought casino gambling to the state.

Gov. Bob Taft will ask the attorney general to fight the lawsuit, said Taft spokeswoman Mary Anne Sharkey. The lawsuit won't affect the Ohio Lottery Commission's decision on which multistate game to join, she said.

The opponents plan to cite a 1988 legal opinion by then-Attorney General Anthony Celebrezze on the constitutionality of joining a multistate game.

Mr. Celebrezze, a Democrat, ruled that the Ohio Constitution provides for the Lottery Commission to run only a statewide lottery with the "entire net proceeds" to be paid into the state treasury.

"Given this constitutional limitation, I discern no basis upon which to imply the authority for the Lottery Commission to join other states in the operation of a lottery," Mr. Celebrezze wrote.

On Dec. 13, Mr. Taft, a Republican, signed a bill that authorizes Ohio to join a multistate lottery to help plug a $1.5 billion hole in the current two-year budget.

Joining a multistate lottery is projected to bring in $41 million to the state over the next 1 1/2 years.

In 1973, Ohio amended its constitution to allow a lottery. By law, all lottery profits must go to the Department of Education. They make up about 6 percent of the department's budget.

Senate President Richard Finan said he believes the multistate proposal will withstand the lawsuit. "This is just an extension of an existing lottery," Mr. Finan, a Cincinnati Republican, said.

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