Saturday, December 21st, 2013
Vets betting on win in gambling debate
By Doug Drexler
Mort Ward plays an electronic raffle machine at the Celina Veterans of Foreign W. . .
CELINA - Veterans and fraternal organizations have won at least a temporary victory in maintaining a form of video gambling that supports their charitable work and operating expenses.
Attorney General Mike DeWine's office, after negotiating the issue with a coalition of groups for most of the year, ordered the electronic raffle gaming machines shut down Dec. 8.
Columbus attorney Andy Douglas, on behalf of the coalition, filed a lawsuit Thursday asking a Franklin Common Pleas judge to settle the dispute. Celina's VFW Post 5713 is included in an order that asked that groups be allowed to operate the machines while the issue is settled.
Douglas, a former Ohio Supreme Court Justice, said the system run by the Ohio Veterans and Fraternal Charitable Coalition was back up and running Wednesday night.
The attorney general believes the machines are a form of slot machine, said spokesman Dan Tierney.
"Our office still believes the language is clear, and we will defend our position in court," Tierney said.
Douglas expects the case to be put on the court docket in January.
In addition to Post 5713, local groups using the machines include Celina's Fraternal Order of Eagles Lodge 1291, American Legion Post 210 outside Celina, Fort Recovery's American Legion Post 345 and Coldwater's VFW Post 3720, said Gerald "Mort" Ward, quartermaster of the Celina VFW.
Ward said the machines are simply an electronic form of raffle or pull tabs, and posts are allowed to have raffles.
He said the machines are a vital link in the post's operation budget, but more importantly, to the post's charitable giving.
The post's eight machines generate $3,000 to $4,000 a month, with half that amount designated for charitable donations and half toward post operations, he said. The post generally donates additional money from its general fund, he added.
The VFW donated $10,000 for scholarships from September to December and gave scholarships at a banquet for youth essay winners for another $5,000 to $8,000, Ward said. The group has also donated $1,000 to help purchase land in Celina that will be used to build homes for veterans and it regularly donates to groups such as the Scouts and Civil Air Patrol.
Losing income from the machines would take away $1,500 to $2,000 a month that now goes to such charities, he said.
"It kind of puts us in a bind," he said. "If there's not as much money to go around, we'll have to pick and choose a lot more."
Loss of the machines has cut overall revenue because members are spending less time and money at the post, Ward said. Crowds at the Wednesday night don't stay around without the machines, he added.
Celina's American Legion Post 210 was making about $1,000 a month from its three machines, said trustee John Taylor.
"We're all going to take a hit" if the machines are shut down, Taylor said. "The community is going to take a hit" if the groups don't have the money to donate.
"All of our money stayed in the community, except for what goes to the veterans," he said.
If the money is lost it could result in the post laying off a part-time employee.
"You have to make it up somewhere," he said.
The club's rules prevent it from joining the lawsuit itself, but the state organization is joining the suit on its behalf, he said.
The coalition also has been seeking to get the Ohio legislature to take up the issue and settle whether the state wants to allow the machines.
"We hope the General Assembly will act. The legal action was necessary to allow the charitable organizations to operate," Douglas said. "I prefer legislative clarification, but, if not, we'll get judicial clarification."
Ohio Rep. Jim Buchy, R-Greenville, is co-sponsoring House Bill 325, which proposes legalizing the existing machines by categorizing them under the charitable-gaming section of the attorney general's office.
He said the House is still working out the bill's language to ensure it would not also allow the reopening of video lottery parlors, which the state recently cracked down on.
"My interest is in working with all the parties to see if we can make it lawful," Buchy said. "I'm very supportive of veterans and fraternal groups."
The House is on holiday recess until January.
Ohio Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, said he had written a letter when the issue arose asking the attorney general to work with the groups to settle the dispute.
"We're waiting to see what happens in the House," he said.
His main concern is to ensure machines are overseen so abuses seen in other states do not happen here, Faber said.
"Whatever you do has to be transparent," he said.
He wants the attorney general to supervise any system that gets approved.
The attorney general had previously suggested the clubs use video lottery machines operated by the Ohio Lottery Commission, but the clubs turned down that proposal because it cut the profit they currently make on the machines.
The post got the machines as part of a pilot program in October 2011.
The dispute between Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and groups representing veterans and fraternal organizations over electronic e-raffle machines centers on the definitions of slot machines and raffles in the state's revised code.
In the code, slot machine means either of the following:
(a) Any mechanical, electronic, video or digital device that is capable of accepting anything of value, directly or indirectly, from or on behalf of a player who gives the thing of value in the hope of gain;
(b) Any mechanical, electronic, video, or digital device that is capable of accepting anything of value, directly or indirectly, from or on behalf of a player to conduct bingo or a scheme or game of chance.
Slot machine does not include a skill-based amusement machine or an instant bingo ticket dispenser.
According to the code, raffle means a form of bingo in which the one or more prizes are won by one or more persons who have purchased a raffle ticket. The one or more winners of the raffle are determined by drawing a ticket stub or other detachable section from a receptacle containing ticket stubs or detachable sections corresponding to all tickets sold for the raffle. Raffle does not include the drawing of a ticket stub or other detachable section of a ticket purchased to attend a professional sporting event if both of the following apply:
(1) The ticket stub or other detachable section is used to select the winner of a free prize given away at the professional sporting event; and
(2) The cost of the ticket is the same as the cost of a ticket to the professional sporting event on days when no free prize is given away.