Ohioans Soon to See Testimony About ‘The Future of Gaming in Ohio’ on Dedicated Site

Soon, Ohioans can vet testimony given to the Study Commission on the Future of Gaming in Ohio for themselves. On Feb. 20, commission co-chairman Jay Edwards announced the construction of the testimony site during a meeting dedicated to discussing possible online casino legalization.

A spokeswoman for the state gaming regulator told Bonus that state Rep. Edwards, R-Nelsonville, announced during the Feb. 20 meeting. Matthew T. Schuler, executive director of the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC), also provided testimony during the meeting.

OCCC Communications Director Jessica Franks told Bonus after the Feb. 20 meeting what Edwards said about the testimony site:

They did indicate that they were working on that.

The site may provide more transparency into a process that’s been less accessible to the public than other gatherings of legislators.

The Feb. 20 gathering in the House Finance Hearing Room wasn’t televised or streamed.

Ellen Yahnke — supervising producer for Ohio Government Telecommunications (OGT), the parent company of The Ohio Channel — told Bonus on Feb. 20:

As of now, the Ohio Channel is not covering the new Gaming committee. … Simply, we cover committees at the request of the legislature.

The public radio representative suggested Bonus contact the House and Senate for further questions, which Bonus had already attempted.

Study Commission on the Future of Gaming in Ohio co-chairmen Edwards and state Sen. Nathan H. Manning, R-North Ridgeville, didn’t reply to emails from Bonus.

WCMH Statehouse Reporter Natalie Fahmy added on Feb. 20:

Edwards said by the end of June they plan to have a report, which he said he hopes will act as a roadmap to legislators as they move forward with new bills related to gaming.

The commission will meet again twice in March and once in April.

Ohio Gaming Regulator Testifies

Franks told Bonus on Feb. 20 that Schuler’s testimony to the commission was limited to retail casino and skill gaming.

Ohio recently launched legal online sports betting. Plus, it houses other forms of gambling, including the Ohio Lottery.

The Study Commission on the Future of Gaming in Ohio is expected to discuss possible legislation, like an Ohio online casino bill.

Schuler’s testimony

Bonus requested Schuler’s testimony from Franks.

He began with the OCCC’s origin story as a 2009 entity created because Ohioans voted to change the state constitution and allow land-based casino gambling.

Now, 2,956 individuals hold casino gaming licenses in Ohio. That includes 2,720 casino workers, Schuler said to the study commission. Ohio has 11 commercial casinos, according to the trade group the American Gaming Association (AGA).

Schuler testified about the OCCC:

The Commission is a law enforcement agency and is responsible for enforcing the Casino and Sports Gaming Control Laws. The Enforcement Division is comprised of gaming agents, investigators, and a criminal intelligence analyst. Gaming agents are certified peace officers in the State of Ohio and have arrest authority on all casino properties as well as outside of the casino when enforcing the criminal provisions of the Casino and Sports Gaming Control Laws. Agents are headquartered at their respective casinos and staff a 24-7 operation.

One of the OCCC’s mandates is gaming enforcement, he said.

So, when gaming agents find an illegal activity, they investigate it anywhere in Ohio. That includes seizing “skill-based amusement machines” at “third-generation strip malls.”

Schuler on ‘skill games’

Schuler called the pseudo-slot devices “skill-based amusement machines.” They go by many other names in other states, where they’re often found in convenience stores and bars.

In April 2023, Chris Cylke — AGA senior vice president of government relations — told Bonus about 580,000 unregulated skill game machines cost $8 billion annually in uncollected taxes.

Schuler testified that in Ohio, they outnumber legal slot machines at the state’s larger casinos in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo.

He said:

Gaming agents also investigate illegal casino operations around the state. Illegal casinos, often found in third-generation strip malls, offer slot machines and pay cash in violation of Ohio law. They attempt to avoid scrutiny by law enforcement and local governments by claiming that the devices are skill-based amusement machines, which are legal under Ohio law. In reality, these devices are slot machines under the law because they incorporate an element of chance, players are awarded cash payouts, or both.

To date, working with local law enforcement and county prosecutors, the Commission has served warrants on 146 locations and seized/disabled over 6,400 slot machines. This equates to more than all slot machines at the four casinos combined. It is common for the operators of these lucrative criminal enterprises to be charged with illegal gambling, money laundering and tax evasion, among others.

About the Author

Heather Fletcher

Heather Fletcher

Heather Fletcher is Lead Writer at Bonus, concentrating on online casino coverage. She specializes in breaking news, legislative coverage, and gambling marketing strategy overviews. To reach Heather with a news tip, email [email protected].
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