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Games of Skill or Chance? Ohioans Speak Their Minds

The attorney general's office has just wrapped up a series of meetings to gather public input about games of skills versus games of chance. The Strickland administration has issued an emergency order to try and regulate the machines. But it may be up to the legislature to decide the outcome.

Is it a 'game of skill' or a 'game of chance?' State law allows machines whose outcomes are based on skill to operate legally under certain provisions. But if the outcome is based on chance, the attorney general defines it as a slot machine, and therefore illegal. The debate is making some Ohioans angry.

Attorney General Marc Dann's emergency ruling was designed to shut down what he believed to be illegal machines. But the ruling thus far has only had limited effect. Court rulings have allowed some games like Nudge Master to continue.

30 miles southwest of Columbus at a nearly deserted outlet mall on Interstate 71, an arcade called Lucky You is open and doing a respectable amount of business for a Tuesday morning. No smoking, no alcohol and no one under the age of 21 is allowed. The client le appears to older - people in their 50s and 60s. The owner declined to be interviewed on advice of his attorney. But at a public hearing Monday night in nearby Washington Court House, Talmadge Long defended his arcade.

"There's a difference between gambling and skill," Long said. "It is a fine line; I'll be the first one to tell you. I do honestly have skilled games. I am the Chuck E. Cheese for adults."

Long was among some 30 people who spoke at the forum - the last of four statewide public meetings held by the attorney general's office. Members of the Marc Dann's staff listened as people testified for and against the gaming machines. Don Bock spoke first.

"It nearly destroyed my life a number of years ago," Bock said. "I gave up an insurance career to devote nine years to gambling. And it is extremely addictive and it is wrong. It will take clothes off the back of children, food off the table, and cause rent to go unpaid."

Ray Vance, a local minister, says he visited the Lucky You before attending Monday night's meeting. He said gambling was morally wrong and driven by greed, and was destructive to the family.

"Authorities in gambling jurisdictions report dramatic increases in divorce, suicide, bankruptcy, domestic violence related to gambling," Vance said. "Research shows that children of gambling addicts experience lower levels of mental health and physical well being."

The majority of speakers, however, said they favored the machines, though it was clear their opinions were formed by their experience at the Lucky You. Mary Noble says she and other elderly people sometimes cannot make the trip to the Argosy casino near Cincinnati. Connie Allen compared the Lucky You to a social club. Some speakers such as Bob Dawes were angry with the Strickland administration.

"The attorney general is to enact laws that are passed by our representatives not create laws on his own," Dawes said. "The governor's job is to foresee and run the state of Ohio. Both of them need to back off; back out of the church a bit, leave the church in the church and the laws where they should be."

The controversy over games of skill versus chance was not lost on Bob Pittser who wondered about the name of the Jeffersonville arcade.

The contradiction is this: If it's a skilled facility, the name "Lucky You" and skill? Don't know, just struck me funny," Pittser said.

With the beginning of the legislative session approaching, legislative leaders have promised to take up the matter quickly.