Ohio continues to have an illegal gambling problem. Even after shutting down several locations with unregulated gambling machines, it’s an ongoing issue as ABC News 5 in Cleveland has uncovered many more.
Illegal Gambling Centers in Strip Malls
Reporter Rob Regan took his hidden camera to businesses in Medina, Akron and Mentor-on-the-Lake that operate “skill games”. He discovered that these types of venues feature skill-based gaming machines – but that’s not what’s illegal; it’s the fact that patrons can win cash prizes from these games.
Patrons at the venues didn’t even attempt to hide the fact they were taking part in illegal gambling activities. Rob interviewed a group of women, who were happy to talk about their regular trips to gamble at venues like E-Z Win Games of Skill.
The games located in these dens are designed to look a lot like your average slot machine. They have reels with symbols that can line up to create winning combinations. The element of “skill” is added by giving players a small bit of control over one of the game’s features.
“When you win you have to slide a little bar, that’s what makes it legal. That’s the skill,” Rob was told by an attendant at one of the venues he investigated.
What Type of Skill Games Are Legal?
In Ohio, not all skill games are illegal. That would make places like Dave & Busters illegal gambling dens. It only becomes illegal when cash prizes are awarded.
So, venues in Ohio are permitted to offer games like skee-ball and pinball. These games can even offer prizes like gift cards and tickets – but, cash is not allowed.
Skill-Based Gaming Dens Continue to Thrive
In recent years, authorities in Ohio have shut down nearly 100 skill game centers across the state – but, there are still many other locations where patrons can play illegal gaming machines for cash prizes. The venues visited by Rob and his undercover team have yet to be investigated by authorities, and there are certainly other similar locations that continue to operator without any legal intervention.
When checking out strip malls in Ohio, skill game centers stand out. Names like “EZ Win” and “Jackpots” definitely stand out, and most of them even have signage with typical gambling motifs in the windows.
So, the lack of action doesn’t seem to be an issue of how well-hidden these businesses are. It’s more likely an issue with resources, as local authorities may not have the manpower to raid every new skill game venue that pops up.
Why Licensing Is Important
In Ohio, gambling that takes place in casinos and other legal venues is highly regulated in order to protect players and ensure that gaming revenue is taxed.
When residents play games at these types of venues, the operator is under no obligation to pay out any cash. There is always a chance that players could be scammed, as there is no gambling regulator to hold the operator accountable.
Venues like Skill Zone, that pay out cash prizes, also don’t pay gambling taxes. Licensed venues must pay taxes which are allocated to the education system and other public programs that benefit residents – but, when a venue operates illegally, it doesn’t have to pay out any money to the state.
The full report will air tonight at 6PM EST on News 5 Cleveland.