Charitable organizations in Ohio, facing a future in competition with casinos and racetracks, would be allowed to pay dealers and operate card rooms more like for-profit gambling houses in other states under a new law passed last month by the Ohio House of Representatives.
But gambling establishments like the former Goodfellows Players Club — which staged high-stakes poker games in West Carrollton last year — would remain criminal enterprises, even if the Ohio Senate and Gov. John Kasich back the provisions of House Bill 386, officials said.
“I don’t know that we want to go the way of Nevada,” said Rep Lou Blessing, R-Colerain Twp., who sponsored H.B. 386. “You’d have these things up on every street corner.”
Ohio charities, including sporting and fraternal organizations, are already permitted to conduct gambling events to raise money. The bill would allow expanded bingo and other gambling for such organizations.
In addition to events at festivals and other fundraisers, “charity card rooms” could be operated for up to 128 hours a year. Charitable organizations also would be allowed to deduct operating expenses and other costs, and pay employees, aspects typically associated with for-profit ventures.
“A charitable organization may compensate dealers, dealer supervisors, human resource personnel and other related personnel,” according to an Ohio Legislative Service Commission analysis.
The Goodfellows Club portrayed itself as a charitable organization immune from Ohio gambling laws.
Like charitable organizations, the club formed a limited liability corporation and maintained a list of about 1,100 members — said to include lawyers and police officers, according to West Carrollton police reports.
Detectives began investigating Goodfellows after noticing players gathered around tables in January 2011 following complaints and tips about illegal gambling inside the establishment, located in a strip center just off Interstate 75.
An undercover Dayton vice detective entered poker games there.
The detective observed dealers profiting from the games, according to authorities.
“I could see the dealer take chips from the pot and place them into a bucket which was on the ground next to the dealer,” Dayton Detective Doug George said in a report.
Sixteen officers from area departments raided the club and seized a pistol and more than $3,300 from a safe, according to reports.
Also seized in the raid were documents intended to establish the club as a charitable organization and records of payments to dealers.
Ronald Huerkamp, 69, of German Twp., and two others were charged with operating a gambling house. In a plea bargain, charges were dismissed against the other suspects.
Huerkamp pleaded guilty to gambling, surrendered the seized cash and pistol, and agreed to stop conducting games in West Carrollton, according to court records.
By March 20, Huerkamp is expected to pay $645 in Miamisburg Municipal Court, closing the case.
On Feb. 15, H.B. 386 passed the Ohio House and was referred to the Senate. A section requiring dealers working for charitable organizations to get background checks is to be added to the Senate version.
If passed, the law would help legitimate charitable organizations compete for gambling dollars with casinos and racetracks. But for-profit gambling houses would remain criminal enterprises.
“Did the money go to a charity? That’s the ultimate question,” Blessing said.
Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2261 or lbudd@DaytonDailyNews.com.
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