Slotlike gaming machines fall in gray area of the law
Mar 10, 2013 (The Columbus Dispatch - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
In a corner of Gahanna's VFW Post 4719 are two video terminals that look like slot machines, except that written on each are the words charitable electronic raffle.
Bill Seagraves fed $20 into one last week, just as he would have at a casino. The executive director of Veterans of Foreign Wars of Ohio Charities then played a game called Carousel of Cash, which looks something like the Wheel of Fortune slot machine.
Reels spun on the video screen.
When they matched fruit or diamonds, Seagraves earned more credits. He took tickets to a cashier at the end and was paid 97 cents.
But this is not casino gambling, say representatives of veterans and fraternal organizations. It's charity. It's a raffle. They think that raffle terminals might help the VFW, the American Legion, the Elks and others reverse years of revenue decline.
There's a problem, though. The terminals aren't illegal under any Ohio law, but they're not legal, either. They aren't addressed in Ohio Revised Code. The groups with the terminals say they try to conform to any law that seems to fit, such as the one defining paper raffles. They've also gone beyond existing law --having all machines tested at an independent lab, for example, and reporting their locations to the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
"We tried to answer those questions (about regulation) ahead of time," said David Kopech, a lawyer advising the organizations.
Still, in light of the controversy over Internet cafes, the veterans and fraternal organizations are pushing for formal regulation of video raffles. They have met with the Ohio attorney general's office and other interested parties.
"The legal status of these machines is unclear; hence the need for legislation," said Dan Tierney, spokesman for Attorney General Mike DeWine. The group that introduced and is now regulating the terminals is called the Ohio Veterans and Fraternal Charitable Coalition. It's made up of the Ohio branches of the VFW; American Legion; American Veterans, or AMVETS; Eagles; Elks; and Moose, along with the Ohio Council of Fraternal, Veterans and Service Organizations.
Created in 2003, the coalition began work in 2006 to figure out how to revive its stagnating organizations. Smoking bans, the threat of casinos and an aging membership were making it difficult to survive, said Merle Pratt, an AMVETS representative to the coalition.
Kopech, who has worked for decades in Ohio charitable law, learned about video-raffle technology and brought it to the coalition. The first terminals were installed in fall 2011.
There are now about 400 in 123 posts and halls throughout Ohio. There are 1,600 veterans and fraternal facilities that could have terminals eventually.
Those facilities have offered charitable gaming for years, Kopech said --bingo, paper raffles, instant-lottery-type cards called "pull-tabs." But posts began losing money when higher-tech games became available elsewhere.
So the video raffles are designed to look like slot machines, even though they're not. When Seagraves fed his money into the terminal in Gahanna, it spit out a piece of paper --an instant-raffle ticket. In bar-code form, it already said how much money he was going to win.
The spinning reels on the video screen, the plays and bets he made at the terminal for the next 15 minutes were just window-dressing. None of it changed what his payout would be. When he switched games or put more money at risk, he got another ticket.
In fact, Seagraves could have just punched a "quick reveal" button as soon as he put in his money to see what he was going to win. Most people prefer to drag it out with the games on the screen, Kopech said.
All of the terminals are connected to a central server to prevent tampering. Electronic records show exactly how much money each terminal is taking in, Seagraves said.
Under the current law defining raffles, a nonprofit group such as a veterans organization can keep half of the earnings and must give the other half to charity. The terminals have brought in about $2.7 million in total so far.
Veterans organizations say the machines are doing what they'd hoped. Members are playing the terminals rather than sweepstakes machines outside of posts.
Are the two machines at the Gahanna VFW post popular
"Extremely," said Pam Williams, the canteen manager.
___ (c)2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Visit The Columbus Dispatch
(Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
[ Back To Technology News's Homepage ]