Monday, January 21, 2002

Lawsuit contests multistate lottery

By Brian Clark
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — A coalition of religious anti-gambling groups is counting on a lawsuit to derail Ohio's plan to join a multistate lottery.

        The General Assembly gave Gov. Bob Taft permission to join a multistate lottery in December as part of an attempt to balance the state budget. Officials expect to reap $41 million annually, starting in July, from either the Big Game or Powerball.

        A lawsuit filed last week argues any law letting the state join a multistate lottery violates a section of the Ohio Constitution that says only one state agency can run a lottery in Ohio.

        “The General Assembly has clearly walked over the language of the voters in Ohio,” said David Zanotti, president of Ohio Roundtable.

        Attorney General Betty Montgomery, who in the past has spoken out against increased gambling in Ohio, will find herself defending the plan.

        “The Attorney General is philosophically opposed to expanding gambling,” said Joe Case, Ms. Montgomery's spokesman. “She's obligated to defend the state and will do that on this case.”

        The Ohio Constitution allows the state to run a lottery with the profits going to education.

        The suit contends Ohio would not run the multistate lottery, and the proceeds would not go to education. The General Assembly called for $41 million to be taken from the Department of Education budget when multistate lot tery profits went in.

        “That shell game is ... more than unconstitutional. It's anti-constitutional,” Mr. Zanotti said.

        Some lawmakers say Ohio's lottery sales have been sagging because people can play for larger jackpots in multistate lotteries across the river.

        “It's easy for people in Southwest Ohio to understand when they go to Kentucky and Indiana to play Powerball,” said Rep. Patty Clancy, R-Cincinnati. “The lottery should work for us, not against us.”

        But authorizing the multistate lottery was difficult for the Ohio House, where the bill passed 53 to 45.

        “When it came over to the House it was more of a way for us to put something together, to get along with everybody,” said Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford. “So this (lawsuit) isn't something I'm wringing my hands over.”

        Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-Cincinnati, was one of six Republicans to vote against the bill.

        “I took a pledge I wouldn't support the lottery,” Mr. Brinkman said. “The lottery is a tax on the poor.”

        Mr. Zanotti said his group would file an injunction this week to try to prevent Ohio from joining either of the multistate lotteries until the lawsuit is decided.

        In the meantime, the Ohio Lottery Commission plans to continue studying which game the state should join.

        Mardele Cohen, spokeswoman for the lottery commission, said the commission had no comment on the lawsuit.


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