By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Statehouse Correspondent
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Church groups and anti-gambling activists sued the state Tuesday over its decision to join a multistate lottery game such as Powerball or the Big Game, arguing that such a game would violate the Ohio Constitution.
The lawsuit, filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, argues that the constitution permits only a lottery run exclusively by Ohio with no involvement by other states.
One party to the lawsuit, the public policy group Ohio Roundtable, also said it will start a $50,000 to $100,000 ad campaign this year to persuade Ohioans to eliminate all state-sponsored gambling.
"As an economic tool, gambling is not sustainable," said David Zanotti, president of the Roundtable. "To keep propping up state government with a nonsustainable tool is a scam."
The Roundtable, supported by private contributions from individuals and businesses, helped defeat issues on the 1990 and 1996 ballots that would have brought casino gambling to the state.
Gov. Bob Taft will ask the attorney general to fight the lawsuit, said Taft spokeswoman Mary Anne Sharkey. The lawsuit won't affect the Ohio Lottery Commission's decision on which multistate game to join, she said.
The lottery opponents plan to cite a 1988 legal opinion by then-Attorney General Anthony Celebrezze on the constitutionality of joining a multistate game.
Celebrezze, a Democrat, ruled that the Ohio Constitution provides for the Lottery Commission to run only a statewide lottery with the "entire net proceeds" to be paid into the state treasury.
"I discern no basis upon which to imply the authority for the Lottery Commission to join other states in the operation of a lottery," Celebrezze wrote.
On Dec. 13, Taft, a Republican, signed a bill authorizing Ohio to join a multistate lottery to help plug a $1.5 billion hole in the current two-year budget.
Joining a multistate lottery is projected to bring $41 million to the state over the next 1½ years.
In 1973, Ohio amended its constitution to allow a lottery. By law, all lottery profits must go to the Department of Education, where they make up about 6 percent of the department's budget.
Senate President Richard Finan said he believes the multistate proposal will withstand the lawsuit.
"This is just an extension of an existing lottery," the Cincinnati Republican said Monday. "I had a belief that the Lottery Commission could have done this anyway without legislative action. Clearly with legislative action, it's even more substantive."
The state should consider asking the lottery opponents to post a bond to cover lost revenue if their lawsuit is unsuccessful, Finan said.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)