Lottery Opponents Say Study Commission Biased

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Church groups opposed to an expansion of state-sponsored gambling said Thursday that a committee to study gambling's impact in Ohio is biased toward lottery supporters.

Lawmakers created the task force last year as part of a compromise budget package dealing with a $1.5 billion state deficit.

Part of that package included raising $41 million annually by letting Ohio join a multistate lottery. The same package required the task force to study gambling's impact.

Ohio announced in February that it would join the Big Game. The newly expanded Big Game -- to be renamed Mega Millions -- will sell its first tickets May 15 and conduct the first drawing that includes Ohio on May 17.

The committee's membership lacks balance, focus and credibility, said the Rev. John Edgar of the United Methodist Church. The church has sued over the multistate game, arguing that Ohio's constitution prohibits joining a multistate lottery.

"This is such a flawed committee I wish it could go away," Edgar said. "Basically, it is a farce."

Task force members include the Ohio Lottery Commission's director, Dennis Kennedy, and Donet Graves, the commission's vice chairman.

Its chairman is former state Rep. Donald Mottley, a supporter of Ohio's joining a multistate game. He said the committee represents the feelings of most Ohioans, who have voted in favor of a state lottery and charitable gambling but who oppose casinos.

Mottley acknowledged the strong feelings of lottery opponents and encouraged them to come before the committee.

"We want testimony on both sides of the issue," said Mottley, a tax lawyer and lobbyist.

The task force's vice chairman is Rep. Larry Flowers, a Columbus-area Republican who is opposed to the multistate lottery.

"I think it will be a fair, open process," he said.

Republican Gov. Bob Taft, who appointed three of its members, is confident the committee's recommendations will be fair, a spokesman said.

"The governor expects the committee will make some sincere and relevant recommendations," Joe Andrews said.

A final report is due June 30.

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