He’s shocked-SHOCKED, to find gambling going on in the establishments! Croupier with a stack of money muttering “Here are your winnings, sir” brushed aside.
OK, OK! We know. It’s a famous scene from Casablanca. Inspector Louis Renault, looking for a diversionary reason to close down Rick’s Cafe Americain after being ordered to “find an excuse” by Major Strosser, his Nazi puppet master, utters this infamous phrase. And no, we aren’t accusing the Attorney General of accepting bribes. Campaign contributions from gambling interests, perhaps. Bribes, no.
The bottom line is that Marc Dann has made a sudden and complete u-turn in his agency’s policy on gambling devices. Trying desperately to repair the sizable hole he shot into his own foot just two short months ago (see our blog articles and the attached news stories here and here), Dann has issued a letter to more than 700 gambling device operators ordering them to cease operating them, according to the Columbus Dispatch on August 22, 2007.
The letters sent by Dann are based on an executive order signed by Governor Strickland which, according to the Dispatch article at least (the monetary payout amount is not stated in the executive order), defines gaming devices that payout more than $10 per win as gambling machines. Why $10 and not $1, $5, $50 or $500? Who knows? The governor may have a reason for setting a $10 limit but it looks completely arbitrary from our vantage point. Former AG Jim Petro, no enemy of gambling interests but aware that Ohioans don’t want gambling, agreed last June saying that the allowance of any payout was an open door for the future. Dann’s bungling of the issue followed by Strickland’s usurpation of the authority to allow gambling payouts props the door open for the possibility of a later upward change in the limit, also by executive order rather than legislative action, after the 2008 election pressure has been relieved. Stay tuned.
As stated earlier, the shot to the foot was fired by by Dann, himself. He toyed with the idea of defining certain electronic gambling devices as “games of skill” if an arbitrarily defined level of “50% skill” were involved in winning the game. Thus, the AG opened the door, and the gambling industry bull has rushed into the china shop. The result has been a nearly overnight proliferation of gaming devices. the number doubling from an already incredible 20,000 to more than 40,000 in three months.
So far, Governor Strickland’s quick political thinking (he is well aware that Ohio voters recently electorally shellacked an attempt by gambling interests to defraud Ohio voters into allowing slot machines at horse race tracks by promising “free college tuition”) has saved Dann from kissing the third rail of casino-style gambling. But the Governor’s quick thinking has not stopped the Attorney General from creating serious credibility problems for himself and consequently damaging the team.
Possibly the most telling and ironic part of the story is a quote from the Dispatch article from the same AG Dann who had declared only last June that these same devices were really games of skill. “In a nutshell, a machine cannot be an amusement machine if it’s also a gambling machine,” Dann said. “It’s as simple as that.”