Category Archives: Gambling

Issues surrounding the societal impact of gambling

Exactly What Ohio Needs…To Commit Cultural Suicide

GamblingThis story from the Des Moines Register is written in a somewhat light-hearted, wink-wink, nudge-nudge style but putting a little thought into it reveals that, like an iceberg, the dangerous part is below the surface.

The question here is about how casinos outside Las Vegas market themselves to attract customers and how those customers translate that message. The fired employee, Mr. Jorgensen, demonstrated that he understood exactly the intent of the Iowa casino’s marketers in their sales campaign. He said “The advertisement is that it’s just like Las Vegas, so I thought I was in Las Vegas.” Mr. Jorgensen was drawn by the implied promise and the belief that “what happens in Iowa City stays in Iowa City.” Obviously, this was a mistaken belief.

What Mr. Jorgensen believed was that he was being treated by the casino, his employer, to a night of drunken debauchery, complete with gambling, pornography, prostitutes, etc. What his casino bosses know and are actively trying to obfuscate is that Mr. Jorgensen’s assumption is exactly what they’re trying to sell to certain kinds of people. People like Mr. Jorgensen. But the obfuscation is in play because the casino operators know that there is a tension in their marketing efforts. If Iowans who aren’t really paying attention, having been temporarily dazed and confused by claims of giant revenues and consequent potential unlimited benefits from allowing casino gambling, begin to see the truth of what casino gambling brings to surrounding communities they will demand an end to it. And the cold reality is that casino gambling brings increased theft, prostitution, assault, broken families, bankruptcies, drugs, pornography, gambling addiction and costs to clean up the mess that far exceed the revenues.

So the trick for casino operators is to sell their non-Vegas casinos as the closest possible clone, implying that anything available in Vegas will be available in Iowa City or Wheeling or Rising Sun or wherever to gamblers and those who seek the other activities accompanying gambling while not awakening the locals to the cold reality. It’s a tight-rope walk and Mr. Jorgensen has been caught in the backdraft of casino management’s effort to show locals that they’re keeping it “family friendly.” Jorgensen, for one, gets the idea that he has been treated hypocritically. “Gamblers have been allowed to continue gambling after they’ve urinated on the blackjack table standing in full public view,” he testified. “I think there’s a little dual standard here.” Of course there’s a dual standard, but after all it’s for the common good!

Ohio needs to think very hard before allowing casino gambling, or keno machines, for that matter. Keno machines are no different from electronic slots and they have the problem of being constitutionally banned, though this little impediment doesn’t seem to bother Governor Strickland or Attorney General Marc Dann.

Here We Go Again!

GamblingEverybody get ready because here we go again! According to the Columbus Dispatch, a front group for casino developers, My Ohio Now, has presented signatures to Attorney General Marc Dann for the purpose of qualifying a petition drive to place a referendum on the November 2008 ballot that would permit the opening of a huge gambling casino in Clinton County.

The group will have to collect about 402,000 valid signatures by late August of next year to qualify the referendum for the ballot. So what’s different about this effort? Well having failed to convince people that their kids would get free college by allowing 9 casinos to open in the last effort and also having failed to convince Ohio voters before that that gambling would be somehow lucrative for Ohioans in several past initiatives that would have allowed multiple casino openings, gambling interests have decided to try and convince Ohioans that allowing the camel’s nose in the tent with a single $600,000,000 (!) casino is the way to go.

Watch for red herring arguments like “this will keep Ohio gambling money in Ohio” and “everybody is doing it anyway so let’s keep it here and tax it” and “it’s just good clean fun and nobody is getting hurt.” Ok, so why is a company willing to come to Ohio and spend $600,000,000 to lure gamblers to Clinton County? How much profit is there in gambling? Clearly, a gigantic one! How much of that profit comes from gambling addicts who spend their children’s college money, their retirement funds, their home equity and money they “borrow” from employers to get their fix? How much of the profit comes from the poor, who are seduced by empty promises of big payouts? How many families are destroyed to provide a paltry revenue to the state so they can expand their power and control over our true liberties? What are the actual costs of legalized gambling versus what revenue they generate?

We will be asking these questions as this latest attempt to bring gambling to Ohio progresses. My Ohio Now will not like the questions and will couch their answers in libertarian terms that hide the fact that they will be profiting on man’s weaknesses, his covetousness and his denial of God’s position as our sole provider.

AG Dann Awakens From Stupor!

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.

gamblingOK, 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.”

No kidding.

Games of Skill? No Chance! Update

gamblingIn an article in today’s Columbus Dispatch (June 20, 2007), Ohio House Speaker Jon Husted called for legislation to ban so-called “games of skill,” reiterating his opinion that “…just because a game is 51% skill does not make it a game of skill…” and also that the move to re-label the games is merely a backdoor incremental approach to legalize the devices. Governor Ted Strickland and Attorney General Mark Dann have called for limiting payouts but Husted isn’t swayed by the arguments for this. He says limiting payouts will not limit losses, which is the bottom line for the gambling device manufacturers, distributors and operators who rely on the long odds for their considerable profit margins.

We can only speculate what effect this will have on attempts to expand gambling through Video Lottery Terminals (VLT’s) modified to show archived horse races that are represented in HB 118 and SB 125, currently before the Ohio Legislature.

We applaud Speaker Husted’s stand on principle. Thank you, sir!

Come back for updates. Tell us what you think with a comment.

Games Of Skill? No Chance!

gamblingCommentary By Chuck Michaelis

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive”- Sir Walter Scott

What looked, at first, like a carefully choreographed effort to circumvent the will of the Ohio electorate, which voted in a 57%-43% rejection, on casino-style gambling has begun to take on the appearance of having devolved into a Three Stooges comedy routine. And while we might laugh at the eye-poking, suspender-snapping and non-sequitur banter of the performers, whose ranks include elected representatives and for-profit gambling companies, the potential outcome of their actions cannot be treated so cavalierly.

The latest chapter in this continuing story began earlier this year when Representative Bill Seitz of Cincinnati and Senator Steve Stivers of Columbus, ignoring the crushing defeat just last fall of State Issue 3 that would have allowed casino gambling in Ohio, introduced identical companion bills in their respective bodies, HB 118 and SB 125. The purpose of both bills is to permit Ohio racetracks to provide a venue for bettors to gamble on the outcome of random and anonymous pre-recorded horse races which would be shown on a multi-purpose gambling device specially chipped for this particular style of gambling. An identical bill was defeated last session when testimony was given that proved that with a simple chip change, these horse racing terminals could be converted to video slot or lottery (Keno) machines (see the article “Racinos Bad Public Policy” elsewhere on the Principled Policy blog).

In that 2006 session, realizing the bill was guaranteed to raise the ire of social conservative voters in a crucial election year (which became a virtual political bloodbath anyway), Ohio House Speaker Jon Husted required Rep. Seitz, the House Majority Whip, to guarantee 50 “yes” votes from his own caucus before it could be brought to the floor, according to well-placed sources. Despite Seitz’s best lobbying effort, he could not deliver the required “yes” votes. Now, in this session of the General Assembly, the Senate version of this bill (SB 125) has moved forward first, passing the Senate on 5/23/07 by a vote of 25 “yes” to 8 “no” and is now before the Ohio House. It is doubtful that Speaker Husted will impose the same restriction on this bill as that placed on the House version last session.

The purpose of this legislation is officially to “help” the Ohio horse racing industry that is feeling pressure from casino gambling in nearby states to be more competitive by offering similar gambling options. Legislators are warm to this idea because increased revenues at the tracks means, supposedly, increased tax revenues to the state. Just like the state “cashes in” with the Ohio Lottery, which is in reality a tax on the poor based on false hopes fueled by flashy and misleading advertising, some Ohio legislators hope to cash in on the revenue potential from “Racinos”, heedless of the extensive economic and social costs associated with this effort. Most importantly, the unstated reality is that large increase in revenues to tracks and gambling corporations can translate into large contributions to re-election funds and party coffers, especially to the “friends” of the gambling interests.

It is evident to many observers that the tracks have been well-greased this go-around, and that SB125 is on a fast track to final approval. The Ohio legislature will be recessing for the summer after finalizing the state’s biennial budget bill, which will be adopted by the end of June. The pace of hearings on SB125 is such to ensure that the bill is brought to the House floor for a vote prior to that recess. The bill was assigned to the House State Government and Elections Committee (gee, what irony in a name), on which sit 7 of the co-sponsors of the companion legislation, HB 118. A check of the record shows that two more members of this committee voted in favor of the previous session’s version of this expansion of gambling, giving the bill at least 9 votes (which happens to be just the number needed to clear the committee with a simple majority, which is comprised of 17 members of the House). House sponsor Rep. Seitz sits on the committee, as well as four other members of the leadership of the chamber from both parties.

The committee has stated how concerned they are about the struggling horse industry, but has yet to raise any questions or concerns relative to the human costs such state endorsement of further addictive behavior would bring to Ohio. Research clearly indicates that such rapid-fire gambling options increase the potential for developing problem gambling in a more expedited onset of the behavior which indicates such addiction. None of that has been of pressing concern so far to the elected representatives of the people, nor is it a concern that in the last 16 years, the people have soundly rejected all attempts to expand gambling in Ohio.

From the other side of the political spectrum is the recent St. Vitus Dance of Attorney General Mark Dann on the status of the “Match ‘Um Up” game distributed by Castle King LLC. AG Dann hired Gaming Laboratories, LLC to do a study to determine if “Match Um Up” had a skill element greater than 50%, which would purportedly make the game a “game of skill” rather than a gambling device. Based on this report, Dann ruled the game a “game of skill.” How precisely this determination can be made from the information provided by Gaming Laboratories remains a mystery because nowhere in the report is there an indication of any percentage of skill versus chance involved in Match ‘Um Up.

As soon as AG Dann announced that the report would be released to the public, Castle King immediately filed for and was granted a temporary injunction requiring the Ohio AG to keep the Gaming Laboratories report secret. This threw Dann into fit of pique and he immediately announced that if the report were not released, then he would declare the games “gambling devices.” This raises an obvious question; what sort of information could possibly be contained in this report that would change the status of “Match Um Up” from a “game of chance” to a “game of skill?” The answer is apparently nothing of any real significance. Castle King agreed to the release of a redacted report, available here.

In a June 7, 2007 article in the Columbus Dispatch, Castle King attorney David Kopech argues that the unredacted report contains information such as the game icon pattern and strategy that could allow players to “beat the game” and allow competitors to copy it. This statement proceeds from some very interesting assumptions. For instance, it assumes that a person knowing the icon pattern and game strategy could overcome the device’s software-controlled icon timing and other factors. It also assumes that there is no governing devices in the game to control the skill element.

In another article in the Columbus Dispatch from June 9, 2007, explains that beating the game through “skill” requires memorizing the positions 128 icons as they whiz by, each icon being visible for either three-tenths or eight-tenths of a second (0.333 milliseconds or 0.83 milliseconds), the speed determined by the software and fully under the control of the game operator (not the player). In the same article Dr. Richard McGowan of Boston College explains that in this kind of game the distinction between skill and chance is irrelevant. He added that “It’s a backdoor way of trying to get into casino gambling. No doubt about it.”

Former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro, who is not opposed to gambling, in the same Dispatch article explains that the games payouts are determined mostly by chance and are controlled by a governor and cannot be won every time, making them mostly dependent on chance and therefore illegal. Petro also pointed out that allowing similar “skill” games opens the door to Indian Casino gaming.

Petro’s and McGowan’s assertions that the devices are actually games of chance are backed by the technical specifications as outlined in the patent applications for them. A close examination of those specifications reveals that the devices are designed to limit the skill element, thus keeping the “odds with the house” ensuring limited payouts and big collections for the game operator.

And in yet another article from the Columbus Dispatch from June 10, 2007, we were informed that Castle King has “…hundreds of machines waiting in warehouses for shipment around the state if Dann approves…” This revelation raises an obvious question. Why would a gaming device manufacturer move “hundreds of devices” worth several thousand of dollars apiece into a state where the previous Attorney General had ruled that games in question were gambling devices and illegal to operate under Ohio law? Why would they store this type of device in a state that had only 6 months before resoundingly defeated casino-style gambling expansion? Wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to keep them in a warehouse at or nearer the distributor and truck them in if, by some chance, the AG should rule in their favor? Logically, the only reason to go to the expense (hundreds of thousands of dollars) of filling several warehouses in Ohio with illegal gaming devices is if you believe you have excellent odds of having them declared legal. For what reason, do you suppose, Castle King concluded that it was a good economic gamble to invest massive economic resources in the effort to have the devices available for delivery at a moments notice, when they could have had the machines here by truck in a few hours if the AG’s decision was favorable? And what does it say about the company’s estimate of the potential profitability, that they believe it would be more lucrative to warehouse them here and have them ready at the exact hour they become legal rather than delaying the few hours that it would take to truck them in? These and other questions need answers. This author is not holding his breath while waiting for those answers.

With the legislature’s Republican delegation taking careful aim at its own electoral foot and about to pull the trigger with the gambling expansion bill (among other issues like eminent domain reform), all that needed be done by the Democrats was to relax and let it happen, even help it along by voting for whichever measure happened to find success. Gambling opponents would only remember that the Republican majority proposed and passed the bill. A very sound political strategy. Then along came Attorney General Mark Dann, who stumbled into the fray with his now-withdrawn proposal to anoint what are clearly gambling devices (as anyone examining the information available on the devices would by reasoned analysis conclude) as “games of skill.”

Enter stage left the very savvy politician Governor Ted Strickland on his white horse. Putting his best populist face forward, Governor Strickland said that the people have spoken at the ballot box on the issue of casino gambling. This from the same Governor Strickland who was inexplicably tone deaf earlier this year, and unable to hear the electoral song sung by voters in 2004 on Issue One while implicitly recognizing homosexual partners, one or both of whom are employed in state government, as being the equivalent of married and entitled to “domestic benefits.”

The Governor devised a clever strategy that allowed AG Dann to recover at least some of his credibility. He announced that he will veto any legislation that expands gambling in Ohio. This is a good thing and even a good thing done for the wrong reason is commendable. Thank you, Governor Strickland!

He also issued a joint statement with AG Dann in which they both called for the Ohio Legislature to pass a new law banning cash payouts on games like Match ‘Um Up and Tic Tac Fruit. This allows Dann some wiggle room to correct the blunder of dallying with gambling interests by appearing to be “concerned” about the gambling corporations’ “lack of candor” and proposing a solution for the problem he himself created. This public relations dog-and-pony show is intended to cover the fact that gaming devices are already banned by Ohio law. In a Columbus Dispatch article from June 15,2007 Ohio House of Representatives Jon Husted catches this “nuance” stating that the debate over banning payouts is moot because the devices are already illegal. He also said “How about we just eliminate them? Just enforce the law.” Husted also echoes Former AG Petro’s concerns that the legalization of small cash payouts would be a back door to legalization of gaming machines which opens the door to Indian gaming casinos as it has in other states like Arkansas. Federal law allows tribes to negotiate to open casinos using the devices approved by the states.

So, in the final analysis Governor Strickland’s seeming response to the clear voice echoing the will of the people may have a somewhat different motivation than that purported. What looked at a distance like a knight on a white horse may be resolving into a snake oil merchant on a donkey as we examine him close up. Time will tell.

In the legislature, it seems term limits, big political payouts and avoiding the hard work of balancing a state budget through the tough choices of lowering taxes and cutting state spending might outweigh the will of the people in this instance. I wonder if the people who voted in such large numbers last fall to curb gambling will show back up next fall to curb those who like to gamble on the good will of the electorate. A large number of members of the Ohio legislature are placing their bets on a very risky game of chance.

Chuck Michaelis is the president of Rocky Fork Formulas, Inc., a dietary supplement design and distribution company. He is also the Executive Director of Camp American, a week-long summer Christian worldview education camp for ages 12 years to adult. He is currently the Vice-chairman of the Institute For Principled Policy. You can contact him at [email protected]

“Racinos” Bad Public Policy

Policy RadarIgnoring the resounding 57-43% defeat of casino gambling by the Ohio electorate last fall, Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) and Sen. Steve Stivers (R-Columbus) have introduced companion bills, House Bill 118 and Senate Bill 125, to bring electronic gaming devices to Ohio horse racing tracks.

Stivers and Seitz are touting the allegedly economic advantages of allowing casino-style electronic gambling. They are, however, ignoring numerous economic impact studies which indicate that the long-term economic costs exceed the short-term tax-revenue gains by several times. These studies measured the costs to society in terms of increased bankruptcy filings, divorce, business failures, crime rates and resultant incarceration costs, suicide rates, etc.

These bills are mirrors of legislation offered during the previous General Assembly session (HB158) by Rep. Seitz to expand this form of gambling in Ohio. Testimony was given during that process by one of our own board members, and, as the new proposals are virtually the same as the previous proposal, the following are the rationales for the opposition to this effort by these two elected officials. House Bill 158 was passed in committee, but failed to receive sufficient support to bring the measure to the floor of the Ohio House for a vote.

Testimony opposing “Instant Gaming” expansion at Ohio horse racing tracks:

I come before you today to express opposition to the passage of House Bill 158, sponsored by Representative Bill Seitz. Our organization strongly believes that there is a direct correlation between the expansion of gambling options in the state with increased economic and social welfare costs to society.

The proposal before the committee would allow the introduction of “instant racing” systems into the racing tracks in Ohio. Proponents have testified that this proposal would both be “just a slight modification” to the ability to wager at the tracks, to “reinventing the racetrack experience.” It is evident that the latter sentiment is closer to the truth: the experience would be reinvented to more closely mirror a casino then a horse track.

The committee was presented with photos of the proposed machines, distributed by RaceTech. From its appearance, it resembles a slot machine found in casinos. However, it is not just by appearance that that similarity is found. An Internet search revealed documentation relating to the European patent application by RaceTech for this machine. The documentation supplied for the patent application is revealing:

“Although the above described and other types of wagers commonly available
at racetracks are extremely enjoyable and entertaining, over the years,
the racing industry has seen a great increase in competition from
lotteries and casinos.

At least some patrons prefer a more immediate reward and higher frequency
wagering than customarily offered at race tracks. For example, a typical
racetrack offers one race every half hour. A casino having slot machines,
however, offers a patron the opportunity to place a wager that can be won
or lost every few seconds.

In order to remain competitive, the racing industry is in need of a gaming
system that satisfies the preferences of many different types of patrons.

Although simulcasting does enhance patron loyalty, the number of wagers a patron can place is still limited, particularly in comparison to a slot machine.

In discussing the technical aspects of this system, the patent information supplies the following:

“The gaming system also includes a video server interface for providing
high speed delivery of selected video clips from a historical database,
and a tote system interface which is coupled to a standard racetrack
totalisator system to allow the multi-function wagering terminal to
operate as a standard self-service racetrack wagering terminal. Other
interfaces to other types of wagering systems, such as a lottery, could
also be provided.

The above described gaming system can be utilized in connection with many
different types of races such as horse and dog races. In addition, the
system could be utilized in connection with other types of events. “

This would certainly seem to indicate that these particular types of machines could easily be converted to become both Video Lottery Terminals and slot-type machines. Nothing in the provisions of House Bill 158 would serve to restrict the conversion of these machines to VLT or slot-type wagering systems. This would be tantamount to allowing for the expansion to full Class III gambling in Ohio (and provide an easy inroad for the expansion of full casino gaming in this state). I would strongly urge the members of this committee to not rush to adopt this measure before a full study of the potential impacts upon our state in relation to the expansion of gambling via this proposal is conducted.

Other impacts that need to be considered are the personal and social costs associated with video gambling. Researcher Dr. Bob Breen, in the Journal of Gambling Studies, has commented that “Video gambling is the most addictive form of gambling in history. We found out that the men and women who ‘got hooked’ on video gambling became compulsive gamblers in about one year. Those who got hooked on other kinds of gambling (such as horses, sports betting, etc…) became compulsive gamblers after about 3 ½ years.”

This addiction brings increased social costs to society. Researchers William Thompson, Ricardo Gazel and Dan Rickman, in the Gaming Law Review1 (1997) noted that each compulsive gambler costs society an average of $9,469 per year in economic losses, including employment losses, debts, and welfare. Professor of Commerce and Legal Policy at the University of Illinois, John Kindt, in an article in the Drake Law Review 43 (1994), estimated the social costs (which includes the purely economic factors) to the public of a compulsive gambler to be at least $45,000 per year.

Nationally recognized expert on compulsive gambling, Valerie Lorenz, in a statement to the National Coalition against Legalized Gambling, sets the range of costs to state or federal jurisdictions for the incarceration of problem gamblers who are convicted of crimes related to their gambling habits at $20,000 to $50,000 annually.

Director of the Division on addictions at Harvard Medical School, Howard J. Shaffer, also a leading researcher on gambling, has expressed that a state’s involvement in the promotion or expansion of gambling options to the public is a conflict of interest, based upon the state’s function to protect and serve the citizenry.

The National Gambling Impact Study Commission in 1999 issued recommendations on the issue of gambling. That commission called for a moratorium on the expansion of gambling in the US, particularly that of video gambling machines, which was identified as the “crack cocaine” of creating new pathological (addicted) gamblers. The Commission also noted as a recommendation that states “should refuse to allow the introduction of casino-style gambling (slots, VLT’s, etc.) into pari-mutuel facilities to financially “save” the facility, which the market has determined no longer serves the community or for the purpose of competing with other forms of gambling.

One Ohio Senator, who participated in an ad-hoc group studying a prior proposal to enact a ballot initiative to authorize VLT’s at Ohio’s horse-racing tracks, sums it up well: “The advocates for the racetracks are single-minded in their devotion to their cause….It is now clear that the focus of this group has always been to package slot machines at the race tracks under the guise of an altruistic program to provide funds (for schools, etc.). In reality it is more about private profiteering from gambling.”

We believe that, given the above referenced information regarding these machines, their easy convertibility to other forms of electronic gambling devices, and the social and economic costs that are directly associated with the “crack cocaine” of the gambling industry, House Bill 158 is much more than it is purported to be.

We would urge the members of the Ohio Legislature to not support this legislation, which may well be a “Trojan Horse” for Ohioans.

Report From Ohio Family Lobby Day

Every year in the spring, a coalition of Christian family policy groups come together to sponsor Ohio Family Lobby Day (OFLD). This year it took place on Wednesday April 25. More than 60 people participated in this year’s event including my wife and two of my three children. Sponsoring groups included The Institute For Principled Policy, Pro-Family Network, Ohio Christian Alliance, Family First, Homemakers For America, Citizens For Community Values, Center For Bio-Ethical Reform and many others.

The purpose of OFLD is really four-fold. First, the participants get practical experience in meeting and speaking with their elected representatives. This is absolutely necessary if Christians are to have influence in making state and national policy. Second, the participants learn the best way to be persuasive in speaking with lawmakers. It is imperative that Christians develop cordial working relationships with lawmakers coming from a variety of perspectives and political parties. Third, Christians learn the details of bills which impact their families, churches, jobs and lives. Being aware of what legislators are working on is necessary for all families, if they are to have the impact on the culture that the Christian faith mandates. Fourth, important information is returned to Christian policy groups regarding where representatives stand on legislation that they believe to be crucial to their efforts.

The OFLD participants were divided into teams of four or 5 members. Several teams had whole families as members. My own team consisted of my wife and youngest daughter, two delightful pro-life Christian activists and me. I was appointed a team leader. My oldest daughter was placed on another team. The OFLD organizers made appointments for each team with legislators. Registration began at 8:00 AM and the group opened with prayer slightly behind schedule, a little after 9:00 AM. Following this was a short instruction on lobbying followed by briefings on several bills that the group would be concentrating on.

Among the bills the group was working for were SB-16, the Community Defense Act (CDA) already passed by the Ohio Senate and now pending in the Ohio House, a continuation of abstinence education which Governor Strickland has stated he will not continue; SB-20, the Adoption Tax Credit Increase already passed by the Ohio Senate and now pending in the Ohio House; continuation of the Ed Choice Scholarship program in the budget process and charter schools, which Governor Strickland wants to end or seriously curtail; HB-47 and HB-123, two bills which would end the attempts to tax churches in the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District and prevent this from occurring in the future. The group also was instructed on opposition to HB-81, The Mandatory Gardasil Vaccination Bill, support for the Covenant Marriage Bill (not yet numbered), seeking co-sponsors for the Personhood bill and opposition to the Prevention First Act.

Our team met with two state Senators and had appointments with three state Representatives. Due to the State of the Judiciary speech followed immediately by House session, we met mostly with aides of the lawmakers and unfortunately, one of the representative’s aides was taken ill and so our team’s appointment was canceled. Appointments lasted about 15 minutes and each team leader tried to make sure that any team member who had something to contribute to the lobbying efforts was given the opportunity to speak. I have had some limited experience and did most of the talking, but all of my team-mates also made important contributions to the effort. Only my daughter Stephanie had very little to say, she’s only 12, but she did manage to charm her way into a tour of the Capitol and she was very attentive to what was being said and done by the adults.

A fine lunch was provided as part of the cost of registration. The lobbyists-in-training were treated by a talk from Representative Bill Batchelder who asked us to not let our lobbying efforts be a once-a-year event but that we continue our work throughout the legislative session. We also were treated to a surprise speaker- former Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell, who gave a very inspirational talk on our efforts to have an influence in policymaking.

Between meetings some team members took advantage of the opportunity to watch the legislative process in action from the galleries while others took the time to explore the Capitol’s many historical displays, or to study legislative talking points.

At the end of the day, the teams were asked to fill out a de-briefing form which asked important questions regarding how the lobbying efforts were received, what legislative efforts the lawmakers supported and which ones they opposed. Thus invaluable information was gathered about which representatives support or oppose important bills and give insight on their approachability on future efforts.

My family’s OFLD experience was very positive. As a homeschooling parent, we believe our children gained a priceless lesson on how policy-related things are done, they got to see their parents in action trying to make Ohio a better place to live and they got experience in how to do the job themselves in the future. My oldest daughter thinks she might like to work in the state legislature, something she had never thought about before. This was well worth the registration fee. Come join us next spring and bring the kids!