Ohio lawmakers condemn Canadian government in House while granting lucrative deal in Senate
On the same day the Republican-dominated Ohio House voted for a resolution to put Canada on the religious freedom watch list, the Ohio Senate passed a bill that critics say could give a lucrative deal to a Canadian business to run the state’s lottery.
The Senate bill, SB269, lays out the authority for the Ohio Lottery Commission to conduct internet lottery gaming and to make other changes to the lottery rules. Critics of the bill say the legislation is also a “sweetheart contract” that would steer business to a Canadian business and creates a monopoly for NeoPollard Interactive.
Bars, bowling alleys, fraternal clubs, truck stops, grocery stores and other small businesses across Ohio that carry lottery products are part of the Ohio Lottery Retailers Association. Greg Beswick, a spokesman for the group, said the brick-and-mortar lottery retailers he represents could go on strike or quit selling lottery products if the bill becomes law.
“It's like we do one thing then do the opposite when it's politically expedient," Beswick said.
Beswick said the bill sets up rules for internet lottery gaming and makes other changes for the lottery games.
"It cuts out the business owners who have been out there providing sales for the lottery for the last four decades and have been the backbone of the lottery because it does stuff like allow the mobile lottery to pay out higher payments than you would get if you bought lottery at your local convenience store. We also think it just gives an unfair monopoly and again, it looks like the legislature is awarding a monopoly to a politically-connected client," Beswick said.
Beswick said several key Republican operatives closely connected with Gov. Mike DeWine and other state leaders shepherded it through the Senate.
The bill passed the Senate unanimously. Beswick said that's because some of the lawmakers were unaware of key parts of the bill.
“This is what happens when you see legislation move too fast and you only have one side that really has the time to present only the pros to a bill," Beswick said
While the Senate approved the bill, House Republicans on the other side of the statehouse voted for a resolution, HR194, that urges the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to add Canada to a religious freedom watchlist.
Canada is also a strong trading partner with Ohio. Canada is the top destination for Ohio businesses that export, taking in about 40 percent of all of Ohio's exports. More than $20 billion worth of Ohio goods and services are exported to Canada each year.
In a written statement, Ohio Lottery spokeswoman Danielle Frizzi-Babb said Director Pat Director McDonald did not participate in the evaluation of the RFP for iLottery. The statement said iLottery is simply a way for the agency to sell certain lottery games over the internet, and as with the current product portfolio, the goal is to create prize structures that maximize sales which will maximize profits for education. The agency added, "Brick and mortar stores are the backbone of our business and we would never launch a program that would harm those businesses because it puts the lottery and its commitment to education in jeopardy."
Republican Senate leaders did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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