Game machine ban could close local gambling parlors

COLUMBUS If it looks like a slot machine and it acts like a slot machine ... then it must be illegal
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

COLUMBUS

If it looks like a slot machine and it acts like a slot machine ... then it must be illegal in Ohio. That's the message from the Ohio Legislature.

A law, set to go into effect once Gov. Ted Strickland signs it, would essentially shut down skilled gaming joints in Ohio.

The games at businesses such as Jackpot Island in downtown Sandusky and Spin-to-Win in Norwalk and Huron would be illegal, authorizing law officers to confiscate them.

Ohio courts ruled in years past that electronic "games of skill" such as Tic-Tac-Fruit were different from slot machines and not a form of illegal gambling even though players received cash prizes.

On Tuesday, the state House passed House Bill 177, which will make any gaming machine illegal in Ohio if the machine features cash prizes.

"The governor does plan on signing it pretty much as soon as it's in hand," Strickland spokesman Keith Dailey said Wednesday.

Local gaming establishments served as a source of controversy well before the House bill passed.

The owners of a skilled gaming facility in Port Clinton opened Jackpot Island, 139 Columbus Ave., Sandusky, in July to the consternation of local law enforcement officials who said it was taking advantage of a loophole.

A month later David Pugh opened Spin-to-Win in Norwalk. Within a few weeks Norwalk police started issuing citations to Pugh and his employees nearly every day.

Norwalk Law Director Stuart O'Hara said Pugh's business violated zoning laws, operating too close to a school and outside of the city's designated commercial district.

Pugh and his attorney, Reese Wineman, said the city was misusing zoning laws to persecute Spin-to-Win.

In September, Pugh sued the city in federal court for discriminating against his business. Wineman says the state's new law, if signed by the governor, will probably mean his client has to close up shop.

Since the games were technically legal before this new law passed, Wineman said his client is still entitled to damages.

"It's going to be less damages, I'm not going to kid you," he said.

O'Hara said once the gaming bill is signed by Strickland, his office will read it and decide whether or not to shut down Spin-to-Win.

"I don't know what the final legislation says, but we'll certainly enforce the law," he said.