Gambling Opponents Plan Campaign To Eliminate Lottery

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Anti-lottery opponents, suing to prevent Ohio from joining a multistate lottery, said they also plan a $50,000 to $100,000 ad campaign this year to eliminate all state-sponsored gambling.

"As an economic tool, gambling is not sustainable," David Zanotti, president of the Ohio Roundtable, a private, nonprofit advocacy group on public policy, said Tuesday. "To keep propping up state government with a nonsustainable tool is a scam."

The Roundtable, supported by contributions from individuals and businesses, helped defeat ballot issues in 1990 and 1996 that would have brought casino gambling to the state.

The group intends the ad campaign, on radio and cable TV, as the first step over the next several years to persuade lawmakers to stop funding state government with a lottery.

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.

A spokesman for Gov. Bob Taft said the governor is opposed to eliminating the lottery.

"The lottery serves a definite purpose in the state to support education and without it we would have to come up with funds in another manner," said Taft spokesman Joe Andrews.

Church groups and anti-gambling activists sued Tuesday over the state's decision to join a multistate lottery to help erase a $1.5 billion budget deficit.

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.

The suit cites 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.

Attorney General Betty Montgomery on Tuesday admitted to personal concerns about expanding the Ohio Lottery but said they wouldn't prevent her from fighting the lawsuit.

In 1996, Montgomery actively campaigned against the proposed constitutional amendment to allow riverboat gambling.

"As the attorney general I raise my right hand and say, 'I swear to uphold the laws and constitution of the State of Ohio,'" she said.

"That doesn't mean I can do everything I want to do," Montgomery said. "It means I do everything the law requires me to do."

Montgomery said she was familiar with Celebrezze's opinion, but wouldn't comment on it. She said attorney general opinions generally have legal weight if there is no court ruling to the contrary.

Montgomery said her office previously discussed the legality of a multistate lottery with a client but was not asked for a ruling. She also said she was not asked for a ruling last year as lawmakers debated the issue. She would not discuss the previous conversation, citing attorney-client privilege.

"We've laid out the pros and cons, and the pluses and the minuses and the strengths of all the arguments and opined on that," Montgomery said. "We are not the policy makers, we simply advise them on the law."

Taft, a Republican, signed a bill Dec. 13 authorizing Ohio to join a multistate lottery. The additional game is projected to bring $41 million to the state over the next 1½ years.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)