Monday, April 6, 2015

Ohio Allows Skill-Based Amusement Games

Q:       There’s a skill-based amusement parlor in my neighborhood shopping center. Are these skill games legal?
A:        Yes.  Skill-based games have been legal in Ohio for decades. Ohio’s legislature defined skill-based amusement games in 2003 and amended the definition in 2007. Ohio requires that the opportunity to win a prize in amusement games must be based on the skill of the player and not on a chance event.

Q:       What can I win if I play these games?
A:        Merchandise prizes can be awarded for successfully solving the skill game but the prizes cannot be cash, gift cards, or any equivalent, plays on games of chance (such as slot machines or craps), state lottery tickets, bingo, instant bingo, firearms, tobacco or alcoholic beverages. There is also a limitation on the size and value of the prize. The wholesale value of merchandise prize awarded as a result of a single play cannot exceed $10 but it is permissible to combine vouchers awarded for successfully solving the game to collect a prize worth more than $10. Examples of prizes that can be awarded legally are gas cards, gold coins, gold, silver (not silver coins) and vouchers from stores for store products.

Q:       How do skill-based amusement games differ from forms of gambling like the Ohio Lottery games, casino games or electronic games at racetracks?
A:        Skill games are different from legal gambling operations in Ohio because currently no state sponsored agency is exclusively responsible for regulating them and allotting licenses. A person must be issued a license from the Ohio Lottery Commission to operate lottery games such as instant lottery or the Powerball. The Ohio Racing Commission issues licenses to persons who are engaged in gambling associated with horse racing. Horse race tracks can also operate electronic video lottery terminals as licensed by the Ohio Lottery Commission. Bingo licenses are regulated by the Ohio Attorney General and are granted only to charitable organizations. It is likely that the Ohio Casino Commission will soon have jurisdiction over skill games. Assuming the Ohio Casino Commission receives this authority, it will issue licenses to those who wish to operate skill games.

Q:       Can I own and operate skill games?
A:        Yes.  Right now, anyone can own and operate skill-based amusement games.  Currently there are no state limitations to the location or number of games that an individual can own and operate. The Ohio Casino Control Commission was given the authority several years ago to regulate skill games, but the Commission has yet to exercise that authority. Ohio House bill 491, which granted additional regulatory power to the Commission, failed to pass the Ohio Senate in 2014. The bill is expected to be reintroduced in 2015, so it is very possible that the Commission will soon be licensing skill games.

Q:       Can I own and operate slot machines or video lottery terminals?
A:        Currently only the four casinos can operate slot machines because of the voter approved change in the Ohio Constitution. Only Ohio’s racetracks can operate video lottery terminals as approved by the Ohio Lottery Commission. Recently the Ohio Lottery Commission has introduced similar electronic gaming devices called “Next Generation Games” into veteran and fraternal clubs. These machines are similar to the slot machines and video lottery terminals.  Although these are the only venues in which slot machines or video lottery terminals can be legally operated for profit, it is legal to possess a slot machine at your home if it is operated for amusement and not for profit.

This “Law You Can Use” consumer information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. It was prepared by Columbus attorney Kurt Gearhiser. Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from an attorney.

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