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Published: Wednesday, 10/13/2010

Court upholds cap on skill-game prizes

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Ohio's attempt to crack down on so-called skill games received a boost from the state Supreme Court Tuesday when it unanimously upheld the constitutionality of a $10 cap placed on the value of prizes.

The court overturned a ruling of the 10th District Court of Appeals, finding that the cap plays a "rational'' role in governing the games and discourages the disguising of true gambling devices, such as slot machines, as skilled-based games.

"…it stands to reason that players will not pay the same fee to play games that award a $10 prize as they would to play games that offer higher value prizes…,'' wrote Justice Maureen O'Connor. "Thus, the prize-value limit effectively removes the financial incentive for operators to disguise illegal chance-based machines as skill-based games.''

In 2007, Gov. Ted Strickland issued an executive order to crack down on skill-game parlors that had proliferated across the state, including in Toledo.

He argued that the machines were often illegal gambling devices similar to slot machines rather than games that required more skill on the part of the player than chance.

To reduce the attractiveness of such games, his order prohibited the machines from awarding cash prizes or gift cards, plays on gambling devices, lottery tickets, bingo plays, firearms, tobacco, and alcohol.

Noncash prizes could not be worth more than $10 for each play of the machine. The General Assembly later codified much of the governor's order into law.

Pickaway County Skilled Gaming and Stephen Cline, who run the amusement arcade Spinners in Circleville south of Columbus, challenged the constitutionality of the cap when it saw its business suffer.

Pickaway, as well as the Ohio Coin Machine Association, argued that the cap did not eliminate the lure of machines because a player could still engage in multiple plays to accumulate prizes to redeem for a much larger prize.

While the court agreed this could happen, it said the cap still passes the "rational-basis'' test.

"Because of the limit, individuals must play these games many times in order to accumulate enough vouchers to obtain valuable prizes - and the more valuable the prizes, the more times individuals must play the games…,'' Justice O'Connor wrote. "Therefore, the prize-value limit may dissuade players from spending excessive amounts of money playing skill-based amusement machines hoping to win an expensive prize.''

The debate that led to this case occurred before voters approved Las Vegas-style casinos equipped with slot machines that will open in Toledo, Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati.

Other businesses still hope to get a piece of that action now that a new casino regulatory commission has been given regulatory authority over skill games.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com,

or 614-221-0496.



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