Skilled gaming plays the odds in Sandusky

SANDUSKY Skilled gamers are trying their luck with the law -- and just might be winning.
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



Skilled gamers are trying their luck with the law -- and just might be winning.

Sandusky's most recent skilled gaming addition is Jackpot Island, 139 Columbus Ave., which opened on July 14.

The establishment displays a vendor's license for skilled games and amusement issued by the Ohio Department of Taxation.

Erie County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter said he cannot comment on a specific establishment, but there has been statewide controversy over skilled gaming.

"I think the law is still very unsettled on these games," Baxter said.

"The skilled game loophole was created by the (state) legislature in 2003. Game manufacturers have exploited it ever since," said Leo Jennings, communications director for Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann.

Under state law, such amusement machines are legal if the player must actively participate in the game and the outcome cannot be determined by chance or an outside person not actively participating in the game.

The game distributors will contend that theirs are games of skill, but there hasn't been any testing done by the state -- in fact, there hasn't been any testing done by anyone -- to verify that, Jennings said.

"The uncertainty is causing a real problem for law enforcement," Jennings said. While local law enforcement can confiscate the machines, this often leads to long and costly litigation over whether the machines are games of skill or games of chance.

"Ohio is being overrun by these devices because there is no clear standard for determining whether a machine is legal," Dann said during a May press conference.

In May, Dann introduced a new testing protocol to make official rulings on the legality of certain machines. That testing was suspended shortly thereafter because Castle King, the game manufacturer which agreed to the testing protocol, went to court in attempt to shield testing reports from the media and the public, Jennings said.

The state said that was unacceptable and has since not moved forward with any testing.

Jennings said that the state has not tested any machines, has not registered any machines and has not assigned any numbers to machines in the state. He said that any claim that a machine is state-registered is an absolute fabrication. There is no means of determining whether the machines are based on skill or chance.

Jackpot Island features a total of 20 machines and eight different games. The machines are games of skill which could not be won simply by chance, said employees.

John Kutschbach, manager of Jackpot Island, said that business had been starting to pick up since it opened a month ago.

"I've already had two $2,500 winners," Kutschbach said. Theoretically, a player could win on their first try.

Keith Holt, co-owner of Jackpot Island, did not return calls from the Register on Monday or Tuesday. Holt and his business partner also operate skilled gaming establishments in Port Clinton and Findlay, Kutschbach said.

In accordance with Sandusky's code of ordinances part seven, chapter 705, a license must be issued by the city manager for an arcade to operate in Sandusky.

An arcade is defined by the city code as "any individual premises where five or more electronic, mechanical, or other such machines or devices for amusement are operated for gain or compensation for their owner, but does not include premises licensed by the Ohio Department of Liquor Control or a premises that is the location of a business subject to the City's Hotel-Motel Tax."

According to the city's code of ordinance, before an arcade license can be issued by the city manager, the chief of police must also issue a certificate that the machines are not in violation of the gambling laws as stated in the Ohio Revised Code Chapter 2915 on Gambling.

Interim City Manager Don Miears said that to his knowledge all of the games at Jackpot Island comply with state regulations. He also said the city is in the process of revising the arcade ordinance.

"The Law Department wanted us to hold off on issuing any arcade license," Miears said, until the new ordinance was decided upon.

Assistant police Chief Charlie Sams said that he met with Holt, who said he is willing to comply with whatever regulations the city sets in place.

Sams said that they will wait for the new city legislation rather than enforcing an outdated ordinance. The current arcade ordinance is from 1986.

Jennings said that right now skilled gaming establishments are pretty safe coming into any town in Ohio to basically take their chances.

"They're basically betting that the loophole ... will allow them to operate," Jennings said.

Miears said that the updated arcade ordinance will be prepared in time to be on the city commission agenda by late August or early September.

According to Jackpot Island employees, Sandusky police came to the Columbus Avenue establishment Tuesday to verify proper licensing.

Police had received a previous complaint on July 14 about possible illegal gambling machines at that address.