Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Bingo bill disagreements unlikely to be settled before summer recess

By Leo Shane III
Gannett Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - Senate Republicans don't expect to pass new charitable gaming laws by the end of the month, despite cries from Democrats and social organizations that such inaction could cripple veterans posts and fraternal clubs.

Senate President Doug White, R-Manchester, said he is hopeful that an agreement can be reached, but said he would not support the gaming revisions without major changes.

Other Republicans went even further, saying the proposal has significant flaws that very likely can't be fixed within the next week.

"If I were a betting man, I'd bet this won't happen until November," said Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark, the No. 3 ranking Republican in the Senate. "Something will pass this session, but it won't be before the summer."

Both the House and Senate are expected to recess from June until November.

Supporters of the bingo bill say waiting five more months for new legislation will force many financially struggling clubs to close.

About 500 club members rallied at the Statehouse on Tuesday, lobbying senators to act quickly to help save their organizations.

Expense restrictions key

The legislation is the third major rewrite of Ohio's charitable gaming laws in three years. House members overwhelmingly passed the legislation in March.

The major point of contention deals with expenses. Current law mandates 55 percent of all gaming profits go directly to charities, while the remainder can be used for select costs associated with operating a club or tavern.

Tim Young, spokesman for the Affiliated Clubs of Ohio, said those restrictions are hurting small veterans posts and fraternal organizations, which cannot pay for their operations under the current rules.

"We're trying to save the clubs in the state of Ohio," he said.

But Senate leadership said, as written, the bill would let clubs use their gambling profits for whatever they choose, which goes against the constitutional mandate that gambling profits go to charity. That could lead to a return of illegal storefront bingo parlors, which prompted the earlier gaming law revisions.

Senate Democrats on Tuesday unsuccessfully tried to force their Republican colleagues into a full vote on the Senate floor. Minority leader Greg DiDonato, D-Dennison, told supporters his members would "do whatever it takes to have this measure voted on."

Governor has concerns

Orest Holubec, spokesman for Gov. Bob Taft, said the governor has not taken a definite stance on the bill, but has expressed concerns over the constitutionality of how gambling profits can be used.

White, who is an American Legion member, said he isn't worried about the prospect of debating the bill throughout the summer and passing it late in the year.

"As it stands now, I cannot support this," he said. "I'd rather do something right than do it quick."

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