Ohio Moves Closer To Joining Multistate Lottery Game

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ron Naus is ready to buy a Powerball ticket at home instead of pooling money with friends for a trip to Indiana.

"It's a lot bigger jackpot," Naus, 35, a warehouse worker in suburban Columbus, said Wednesday. "My family, when it gets real big, everybody goes in and somebody takes a ride up to Indiana and gets tickets."

States that offer multistate lotteries such as Powerball or the Big Game might need to decide whether to admit a new member. Ohio lawmakers on Wednesday voted to join a game to help plug the state's $1.5 billion budget deficit.

The GOP-controlled House approved the plan 53-45, with six Republicans refusing to support the plan out of concerns over the lottery and additional taxes. The GOP-controlled Senate approved the plan 18-14, with three Republicans voting no. Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican, has said he'll sign the bill.

Several conservative Republicans would not support the lottery, citing a pledge they signed before the 2000 election not to expand the Ohio Lottery.

Rep. Merle Kearns of Springfield, who signed the pledge, voted against the plan despite a plea from Taft's office. She said she was concerned about a plan to require more companies that loan money to pay taxes. She also continues to oppose the lottery.

Rep. Timothy Grendell of Chesterland, who signed the pledge but voted for the plan, said he was swayed by the addition in the bill of a $5 million loan to help keep struggling LTV Corp. afloat.

"On the lottery, I'd like to not see it in there, but at this point I think I can accept giving the governor the power to do what he wants to do and try to continue the efforts to save Ohioans the fallout from the LTV bankruptcy," he said.

Church groups, including the United Methodist Church, have threatened to sue to keep Ohio out of a multistate lottery, based on a 1988 attorney general's opinion that the state's participation would be unconstitutional.

Senate President Richard Finan, a Cincinnati Republican said his legal staff had signed off on the provision and he was confident that it would stand up in court.

"I'm always concerned, but we cannot be governed out here by what someone thinks the Constitution says," Finan said.

Gov. Bob Taft estimates that offering an additional lottery would raise $41 million annually. He proposed the multistate game to improve lottery sales.

Profits from the Ohio Lottery fell for the fourth straight year in June and sales dropped 10 percent despite the addition of a new game last year.

The Ohio Lottery attributed the declines to competition from unregulated instant-bingo parlors within the state and casinos and lotteries in neighboring states.

The lottery earned $637 million in fiscal 2001, a $49 million decline from a year ago. Profits from the lottery peaked in 1997 with $749 million.

By law, all lottery profits go to education, where they make up about 6 percent of the Department of Education's annual budget.

Ohio had not decided what multistate game to join. Entering Powerball requires two votes by member states. On one ballot, each state has one vote. On the second ballot, the more Powerball sales a state has, the more votes it gets.

Jack Ross, commissioner of Indiana's Hoosier Lottery, said he doesn't know how he would vote. On one hand, Ohio's participation would increase the Powerball jackpot, which could increase sales, he said. On the other hand, it would end the flood of Ohioans who cross the state line to buy Powerball tickets.

"Whether the increased sales brought about by increased jackpots would offset that loss of cross border sales is something I have to take a look at," he said Wednesday.

The richest lottery prize in U.S. history was $363 million in the Big Game won in May 2000. Powerball had a $295.7 million jackpot. By contrast, the biggest Ohio Lottery jackpot was $54 million.

John Black, a Columbus train engineer, said he'd likely play a multistate game if Ohio adopts one. "I'm from Kentucky, so I know about the Powerball," said Black, 50. "I'm sure they'd probably get a good response."

But Barbara Williams, 47, a data entry clerk for an insurance company, said lotteries are a bad idea and she would never play.

"I don't think it's good for folks, especially poor people," Williams said.

(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)