Wednesday, December 06, 2000

Lottery games investigated

Authorities seize $4.8 million in probe of pull-tab operation

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The colorful posters promised that every dollar spent on “Magic Sparkle” and “Sweet Cherry” lottery tickets would go to charities for children.

        Instead, police and prosecutors say, the money went into freezers, suitcases and coolers.

        Law enforcement officials said Tuesday that they have seized more than $4.8 million in cash linked to the pull-tab lottery tickets, which were sold in bars throughout Ohio.

        The seizures are part of a year-long investigation into pull-tab games that were advertised as fund-raisers for the Akron-based Child Care Foundation Inc.

        The investigation went into high gear last week when police and sheriff's departments in six Ohio counties searched dozens of homes and businesses for evidence.

        What they found, police say, suggests the pull-tab lottery may be among the largest illegal gambling operations in Ohio.

        “I have never seen so much money,” said Hamilton County Sheriff Simon L. Leis.

        The sheriff said the recent searches discovered bundles of cash stored in everything from suitcases to freezers. He said some of the money stored in freezers could not immediately be counted by machine because the bills were frozen together.

        Prosecutor Mike Allen said three assistant prosecutors from his office are reviewing the evidence. He said he expects to eventually present the case to a grand jury, which could bring criminal charges against those involved with the lottery.

        “We're going to look at every body, from the top to the bottom,” Mr. Allen said.

        Authorities say the investigation began a year ago when police received complaints about questionable gambling operations in Clermont County.

        Sheriff Leis said investigators soon linked the operations to the Child Care Foundation in Akron. He said tickets benefiting the charity were sold at more than 200 bars, taverns and bingo facilities from Hamilton to Summit counties.

        The pull-tab games, also known as “tip tickets,” are similar to the Ohio Lottery's instant games. Players pay $1 for a ticket and then pull back three tabs to see if they get a match for a winner.

        The pull-tab games are legal in Ohio as long as all proceeds go to charity.

        “The charity was a legitimate charity,” said Julie Ehrhart, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Public Safety. “What made it illegal was the way the proceeds were handled.”

        Ms. Ehrhart said organizers of the ticket game often presented bar owners with two boxes of tickets, promising profits from one box would go to the bar and the other would go to the charity.

        Authorities say they have searched homes, businesses and bars in Greater Cincinnati and the Akron area. They say $3.6 million was found at the Akron home of one of the lottery organizers.

        Searches so far have found “truckloads of gambling paraphernalia and business records documenting organized illegal activity,” authorities said in a press release Tuesday.

        Sheriff Leis said the lottery operation was well-organized, with sponsors providing colorful fliers advertising the game and a videotape showing how the profits would benefit children.

        He said some bar owners may have been fooled into thinking the game was legitimate. But he said anyone who played along to make a profit could face criminal charges.

        “If the bar owners kept the proceeds,” Sheriff Leis said, “they have a problem.”


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