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Published: Wednesday, 10/24/2007

Bill sent to governor to curb cash-paying 'games of skill'

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - The governor's plan to ban cash-paying electronic "games of skill" that he says are slot machines in disguise came full circle yesterday.

Without debate, the Ohio House voted 86-10 to approve recent changes by the Senate and send Gov. Ted Strickland a bill retaining much of the language he included in a largely unenforceable executive order issued in August.

"The governor plans to sign the bill as soon as he receives it," Strickland spokesman Keith Dailey said. "He appreciates the quick and bipartisan action of the legislature."

When the governor affixes his signature, the bill will take effect immediately thanks to an emergency clause added by a super-majority vote of the General Assembly. Bars and fraternal and veteran groups will have to cease offering cash payouts of any amount or noncash prizes worth more than $10 for machines such as Tic Tac Fruit.

It could mean the closing of some stand-alone game parlors that have built their businesses entirely around these video games. The bill does not outlaw the machines themselves, but the no-cash rule is expected to undermine their appeal.

The so-called games of skill have long been present in Ohio, but they have proliferated by the thousands since a provision was slipped into the 2003 budget to protect kid games at places like Chuck E. Cheese and Cedar Point. It did protect those games, but also created a loophole for other electronic machines that supporters argue involve more skill than chance.

More recently, some of the state's horse-racing tracks got into the game after having their own proposal to legalize slot machines rejected by voters last November.

Although the Senate changed the bill to protect bowling, golf, pool, and dart tournaments that offer cash prizes, House Speaker Jon Husted (R., Kettering) offered no promises that lawmakers won't have to return in another year to plug another loophole.

"The people who want to bring gambling to Ohio are pretty innovative people, and I expect that they'll try to figure a way around it somehow," he said. "But for now the problem is solved."

Kurt Gearhiser, attorney for Tic Tac Fruit machine distributor Ohio Skill Games, said he expects businesses using the machines to comply with the law while challenging it in court.

"If this law was poorly drafted before when it was drafted in the dark of night, why would you do the same thing again?" he asked.

Attorney General Marc Dann's efforts to enforce Mr. Strickland's executive order were largely thwarted by the courts, which questioned the governor's authority.

Bill Delaney, owner of Delaney's Lounge in Toledo, plans to operate three of the machines, but said he will comply with the law by offering noncash prizes valued at no more than $10.

He doesn't expect the games, two Puzzle Bugs and one Speed Master, to have the same kind of customer draw as the cash-paying versions.

"I put a sign out front that says, 'Visit Ohio, the state of no fun,'•" Mr. Delaney said.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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