COLUMBUS -- A lawmaker panel gave its OK Monday to the state lottery commission's plans to buy up to 1,200 new electronic gaming machines for use by veterans and fraternal groups.
The Controlling Board vote was unanimous, with its four Republican and two Democratic members agreeing to the request following about 45 minutes of questions.
The lottery commission asked lawmakers to release about $23 million to purchase "multi-purpose, next generation" electronic devices. The units are aimed at replacing raffle machines in use at some locations that were deemed illegal by Attorney General Mike DeWine last year.
He subsequently ordered lodges and posts to remove the machines from their premises, though a court order has allowed their continued use pending a legal challenge.
The terminals would be manufactured in Ohio by Intralot, which has provided systems for the state's video lottery terminal and other lottery games, and would be available for use in about six months.
The new devices will be designated exclusively for veterans posts and fraternal lodges and will allow cash-paying patrons to play new lottery games, with messages about wins and losses displayed electronically instead of via a printed ticket.
Licensed lodges and posts would be able to request up to five of the new gaming machines. Forty percent of the net proceeds would go to those locations, while 60 percent would be directed to education purposes through the state's lottery profit fund.
Connie Miller, director of operations for the lottery commission, told the Controlling Board Monday that the new machines would generate more than $7 million for lodges and posts and $10 million-plus for the lottery fund. She said veterans and fraternal groups have already requested more than 600 of the units.
Though lawmakers on the Controlling Board ultimately supported the spending request, members did press Miller on the plan.
Sen. Tom Sawyer, D-Akron, said he was concerned that the proposal was not moving through the regular legislative process, with multiple hearings and more opportunity for public participation.
"Why are we doing this in Controlling Board today and not in a bill before the general assembly...?"
Miller responded, "Ultimately the legislature or the judiciary may certainly come up with a different decision than this. What we're proposing is to offer an option that uses the traditional lottery model and would provide a legal and accountable solution for these venues."
Rep. Chris Redfern, D-Catawba Island, who also serves as chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, questioned why the attorney general or the lottery commission did not pursue confiscation of raffle machines from lodges and posts if they considered them to be illegal.
He also asked whether the lottery commission could later approve use of the new gaming units in bars, restaurants or other locations.
On the latter, Miller answered in the affirmative and later said the machines, if unused by lodges and posts, could replace existing lottery gaming machines currently in place at licensed retailers.
The attorney general's decision last year prompted an outcry from some veterans and fraternal groups, who aren't supporting the new lottery proposal. About 20 veterans attended Monday's Controlling Board session to show their opposition.
"We don't need the state appropriating $23.5 million for something that we do not want," said Gerald Ward, past state commander of the Ohio's Veterans of Foreign Wars.
"The lottery deal is no deal for us. ... We feel our electronic raffle terminals are legal."
Veterans packed a Statehouse hearing room last month to show their support for legislation that would allow them to offer "charitable video bingo." Ward and others are supporting that measure.