Ohio panel clears $22.5 million for vets’ raffle devices

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – The state lottery was cleared Monday to go forward with building and operating new electronic raffle machines for Ohio’s veterans’ posts and fraternal organizations, in a move many of the groups oppose as an incursion into their operations.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine declared existing raffle machines unconstitutional last year, but had held off on enforcing a ban against the organizations as a compromise was sought. Veterans’ groups eventually took his shutdown order to court, where the issue is in limbo.

Monday’s decision by the state Controlling Board clears the Ohio Lottery Commission to spend $22.5 million on the machines over two years, with 60 percent of the proceeds going to the state and 40 percent going to the groups.

Suzette Price, service director for the American Legion in Ohio, said that’s taking away resources veterans and fraternal groups were providing to charitable causes. Veterans’ posts and lodges have given an estimated $5.4 million raised through the machines to charity in the past two years.

“They’re strong-arming and forcing us to accept what they’re offering,” Price said. “This is not the offer that we want.”

She said picking their own devices, including those provided through the Ohio Veterans and Fraternal Charitable Coalition, represents one of the “freedoms our veterans have fought for.”

She said posts and lodges were already using money from the raffle machines for worthy causes, like Buckeye Boys State, sponsored baseball teams and golf carts that shuttle veterans visiting the state Department of Veterans Affairs to and from their vehicles.

Connie Miller, operations director for the Lottery, told the board Monday that the Lottery began studying options for new devices after DeWine first declared current machines illegal.

Its request funds 1,200 machines made by Greece-based Intralot at $9.6 million in the first year and $12.9 million in the second year. The devices will cost about $14,000 each, slightly more than traditional lottery machines. She said about 2 percent of the state’s 60-percent share will go to overhead.

She said if posts and lodges reject the machines, they would be deployed in other lottery locations.

State Sen. Tom Sawyer, an Akron Democrat, questioned why the Lottery’s plan wasn’t going before a traditional committee, where witnesses on both sides would be called, rather than before the Controlling Board that can only clear or object to such funding requests.

Miller said she couldn’t speak to the venue that was chosen for the request, but said the existing Intralot contract allowed for adding new devices.

Price said she suspects Gov. John Kasich’s administration pushed the Lottery to pursue the plan in order to funnel more money to education. She said the administration has approached lodges individually in order to divide and intimidate them into joining the deal.

Lottery spokeswoman Denise Frizzi-Babb said meetings were held across the state to brief the posts on what was available and 188 posts and lodges have committed to take 555 machines, with another 200 seeking more information.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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