House to vote on casino rules

Bill also helps charitable gaming groups.

COLUMBUS — The Ohio House is expected to vote today on a comprehensive bill to regulate Ohio’s casinos and racinos and tweak the rules applying to horse racetracks, charity bingo and lottery games.

Ohio’s gambling landscape is expanding significantly with the addition of casinos in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, and video slot machines at seven horse racetracks.

Lawmakers wrote the 213-page bill to spell out regulations for licensing, taxing, revenue sharing, enforcement, operations and other areas. They also included provisions to protect charitable gaming operators, such as VFW halls and fraternal organizations.

Groups that hosted gaming before the casinos, such as churches, are worried their patrons will leave bingo and casino nights to gamble elsewhere. Roughly 650 charities are licensed to hold bingo games in Ohio. In 2010, the gross revenue from bingo in Ohio was $983.5 million, according to Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office. As of Tuesday, there were 1,508 organizations with a 2012 charitable bingo license or temporary permit.

On the enforcement side, the bill defines “corrupt activity,” expands the number of offenses which could trigger a wiretap, increases criminal penalties for bribery under casino law and gives the state inspector general jurisdiction to investigate law enforcement agents who oversee casino operations. It clarifies the Ohio Casino Control Commission is a law enforcement agency with the power to investigate, seize evidence and make arrests for gaming offenses.

On the operations side, it requires public disclosure of the names and business addresses for key casino management employees and vendors, but more detailed information — such as tax and business information — will be kept confidential.

Here is a breakdown of other items in the bill:

Horseracing: Requires tracks to race horses 125 days a year by 2015, authorizes the sale of state land in Turtlecreek Twp. to the Lebanon Trotting Club and Miami Valley Trotting, allows video slots to be operated at existing tracks while new tracks are being built and establishes a $12 million fund to redevelop racetracks no longer in use.

VLTs: Authorizes the licensing of VLT technology vendors, testing laboratories and gaming employees; names the State Lottery Commission and the State Racing Commission as the agencies charged with developing rules on VLTs; requires VLT permit holders to contribute 1 percent of their revenues toward addiction treatment services and ensures liquor can be served at tracks with VLTs.

Charitable gaming: Allows bingo games to go two hours later, until 2 a.m.; allows charities to pay their dealers; lets charity casinos operate for up to five days a year; permits charity card rooms to operate up to 128 hours a year and allows fraternal and veteran organizations to pay property taxes out of gross receipts from charity gaming.

Penn National, which is building casinos in Toledo and Columbus, plans to move its harness racing track from Toledo to vacant land at Needmore and Wagner Ford roads in Dayton. The $200 million facility is expected to create 1,500 direct and indirect jobs and open in 2013.

Meanwhile, Lebanon Raceway is planning a $150 million facility with VLTs and harness racing along Interstate 75. The operation is currently at the county-owned fairgrounds.

A House floor vote, scheduled for Tuesday, was postponed to give lawmakers time to deal with amendments.