Veterans and members of fraternal organizations from across the state gathered at the Statehouse on Wednesday to urge lawmakers to continue to allow electronic games in veterans halls.
Veterans and fraternal organizations began offering so-called electronic bingo and raffle games that look like slot machines in 2011, as revenue from paper bingo declined. They say the state’s new casinos and the rise of internet sweepstakes cafes also took business from their games.
Bill Seagraves, director of the Ohio Veterans and Fraternal Charitable Coalition, said the video raffle machines have generated $5.4 million in the past two years for more than 400 charities. The coalition includes the AMVETS Department of Ohio, American Legion Department of Ohio, Fraternal Order of Eagles of Ohio, VFW of Ohio Charities, Ohio State Moose Association, Ohio Council of Fraternal, Veterans and Service Organizations and Ohio Elks Association.
Charitable gaming in Ohio began in 1973, when voters approved a state lottery. Charitable organizations were authorized to run bingo games for charitable purposes in 1975. Raffles were permitted later.
Seagraves said electronic games are not only the newest iteration of charitable gaming but the future.
Half of the 32 Miami Valley establishments that registered as internet cafes were veteran and fraternal organizations. Seagraves said the electronic raffles are different from sweepstakes games because at least half of the raffle proceeds go to charity.
Lawmakers did not address charitable gaming in House Bill 7, passed earlier this year to force internet cafes to close. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine pledged to shut down electronic raffle games by Aug. 1. He then said he wouldn’t go after the games until lawmakers decided whether to allow the games.
Seagraves said his organization has drafted legislation and hopes Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Copley, also a veteran, introduces a bill to regulate the machines.
Judy Pyron, family services volunteer coordinator at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, said Dayton-area veterans rely on money from the raffles for myriad purposes, including paying for the funeral of a veteran’s child and helping pay rent or utility bills.
“Without (the VFW), we could not do any of the services we provide for all veterans,” Pyron said. “Even though we’re at Wright-Patt, we take care of all members of the military.”