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Published: 5/25/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Ohio lawmakers OK gambling bill

Legislation takes effect immediately upon Kasich's signature

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS -- The fight over giving all 88 counties the ability to designate professionally run card rooms proved too hot to handle Thursday as lawmakers pushed through long-delayed legislation to regulate Ohio's rapidly expanding gambling options.

"It got to be such a sticking point," said Rep. Louis Blessing (R., Cincinnati), the bill's sponsor. The issue was dropped altogether from House Bill 386, leaving that battle to another day.

House Bill 386 -- affecting new voter-approved casinos, legislatively approved racetrack slots parlors, the Ohio Lottery, charitable gaming, horse betting, bingo, and legally questionable Internet sweepstakes cafes -- had final votes of 23-6 in the Senate and 71-22 in the House.

The bill passed both chambers with sufficient majorities to allow it to take effect immediately upon Gov. John Kasich's signature.

HOUSE BILL 386 AT A GLANCE

Increases criminal penalties for bribery under state casino law.

Provides the host communities of racetrack slots parlors $1 million in each of the first two years of operation, half of which must be spent on infrastructure improvements. After that, track operators, the horsemen's associations, and the state will negotiate how to pay those communities $500,000 a year.

Excludes Columbus from host communities receiving support from slots parlors because it will also have a voter-approved casino.

Imposes a moratorium on the opening of new and expanded Internet sweepstakes cafes through June 30, 2013, while lawmakers consider separate legislation to regulate them.

Requires the Ohio Lottery to provide 0.5 percent of a track's slots revenue for gambling addiction services while giving the commission the option of doubling that amount.

Increases the minimum number of live racing days and simulcast programs at racetracks.

Allows a racetrack to operate a temporary slots parlor facility until a permanent facility is constructed.

Expands hours of operation for bingo.

As lawmakers have spent months debating, Ohio's first voter-approved Las Vegas-style casino, Horseshoe Casino, opened in downtown Cleveland on May 14 and the second, Hollywood Casino Toledo, will open on the city's riverfront Tuesday. Days later, the state's first racetrack slots parlor will open at Scioto Downs in Columbus.

The dispute over card rooms pitted the House and the Senate against one another. The House-passed version of the bill attempted to put an existing facility approved by Cuyahoga County on firm legal footing amid questions of whether state law allows such facilities.

The Senate, however, wanted to give every Ohio county the authority to approve a single card room with professional dealers to run charitable poker and other card tournaments. Ultimately, the Senate stripped all language pertaining to card rooms, including the House-passed authorization for Cuyahoga, out of the bill, and the language was not resurrected by the conference committee.

The last-minute compromise struck by a joint House-Senate conference committee deals cities and townships that will host six of the seven expected racetrack slots parlors into the game. It gives them $1 million in each of the first two years of the parlors' operation, half of which must be spent on infrastructure improvements.

After that, the local shares, expected to be $500,000, would be negotiated via agreements among the tracks, the horsemen's associations, and the state.

"I obviously would have preferred that they didn't have to go the [memorandum of understanding] route," said Rep. Ron Gerberry (D., Austintown), a committee member. "When you negotiate, you negotiate. I'm happy we came to a resolution."

Columbus, however, will not get a slice of Scioto Downs' revenue given that it will benefit financially on betting taxes at the Hollywood Casino that Penn National Gaming Inc. is building on the west side of town. That casino is expected to open sometime this fall.

"Both houses felt this way," Mr. Blessing said. "They're getting 5 percent from the casino. I guess the comment from all of the committee members was 'Gimme a break. Come on.' "

Toledo will also never see a penny from slots revenue at Raceway Park. By the time the harness-racing track gets its own slots parlor, Penn is expected to have moved it to Dayton so that it would not compete with its Hollywood Casino Toledo.

Rep. Ron Amstutz (R., Wooster), a gambling opponent, called the bill unconstitutional because of the revenue sharing of racetracks slots money.

The track "video lottery terminals" are being administered as an extension of the state lottery.

"The constitution does not provide for a revenue-sharing program for the lottery prior to its determination of what its net profits are for schools," he said. "So while there is a revenue-sharing program in the constitution…, it is entirely to go to the schools."

He said that Thursday's vote invites more litigation.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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