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Published: Wednesday, 10/13/2010

Good bet

PUBLIC interest prevailed over private gambling profits in a welcome decision from the Ohio Supreme Court. The high court has upheld the state's right to limit payouts on arcade games that bear a striking resemblance to prohibited slot machines.

Before Ohio voters reversed course and approved Las Vegas-style casinos featuring slot machines, the state maintained a longstanding ban on the devices - which was routinely ignored by operators. Many took advantage of a loophole in the law by promoting arcade machines disguised as skill games, which really mimicked slot machines, or chance-based games.

The machines, including the ever-popular Tic Tac Fruit, proliferated in bars and businesses across Ohio, including Toledo. State officials once estimated as many as 50,000 were in operation. Finally, in 2007, Gov. Ted Strickland issued an executive order to crack down on the so-called games of skill.

As critics argued that the games were illegal, because like slot machines they relied more on chance than the skill of the player, new rules were imposed to slow the spread of illegal chance-based gambling. Limiting payouts from arcade machines was one way the state hoped to discourage habitual gambling and remove the financial incentive of operators to pass off chance-based games as skill-based amusement.

Private businesses challenged the constitutionality of a $10 cap on the value of prizes awarded on games that rely partly on player skill. Operators claimed the prize limit hurt their businesses and did not serve a valid purpose in stopping illegal gambling.

The Supreme Court unanimously overturned a lower court ruling. It concluded the cap was legitimately in the state's interest of curbing illegal gambling by eliminating the lure of big prizes, and thus "minimizing irresponsible play while providing a legal safe harbor for harmless games."

Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray believes the court recognized the value limit was a reasonable attempt by the state to "separate games of skill and games of chance and prevent one type of game from being tampered with to become another type of game."

Mr. Cordray acknowledged that the ruling may never stamp out the problem of games that are constantly changing, to stay one step ahead of the law. But at least regulatory enforcement has been validated.



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