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Judge: Multistate lottery does not violate Ohio Constitution
The Associated Press
7/16/02 12:31 AM

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- The state's decision to join a multistate lottery does not violate the Ohio Constitution, according to a judge's ruling that upheld the action but overruled an attempt to use the game's profits for purposes other than education.

Lottery opponents, who say state-run lotteries exploit poor people, sued Ohio in January over its decision to join a multistate lottery. They say the constitution only allows Ohio to run its own lottery. Ohio joined the Mega Millions game in May.

Lawmakers "did not unconstitutionally" give the Ohio Lottery Commission authority to conduct a multistate lottery when they passed a bill allowing Ohio to join such a game, Judge Daniel Hogan of Franklin County Common Pleas Court said Monday in a 41-page ruling.

Hogan also said that the bill, passed in December to help close a $1.5 billion budget gap, did not illegally transfer authority to run such a lottery to other states.

However, Hogan did rule against the state on one important element of the lawsuit filed in January by church groups and anti-lottery activists.

The state estimates that the multistate game will earn $41 million annually. Part of the bill included an accounting maneuver that allows the state budget director to use the money for general budget purposes.

Hogan said that is unconstitutional.

By law, all proceeds from the lottery must go to education. But the bill that lawmakers passed and Gov. Bob Taft signed essentially gives the $41 million to the Department of Education, then immediately takes it out again.

Hogan said the perception that lottery profits go to education was so important to Ohioans that they amended the constitution in 1988 to make that fact explicit.

To "now interpret that amendment as only requiring an accounting formality, which in no way prevents the General Assembly from using lottery proceeds to accomplish whatever purposes it chooses, would render the action of the people of Ohio fruitless," Hogan wrote.

"We caught them with their hand in the cookie jar, and that's very exciting," said David Zanotti, president of the Ohio Roundtable, a public advocacy group joining the United Methodist Church in the lawsuit.

Zanotti said an appeal of Hogan's ruling was planned, and he predicted victory at the appeals or Ohio Supreme Court level.

But Mark Landes, a private attorney representing Attorney General Betty Montgomery, said Hogan's ruling was on target.

"I'm pleased that the lottery commission is able to continue to generate money for Ohio schools," he said Monday.

In the lawsuit, opponents argued that lawmakers illegally gave other states the authority to run an Ohio lottery.

Hogan disagreed. The constitution doesn't stop the state from conducting "a lottery that happens to be of a sort that cannot exist except for the cooperation or contractual agreement of other parties," Hogan said.

Lottery opponents also argued that the constitution permits only a lottery run exclusively by Ohio with no involvement by other states.

Hogan found some support for this argument, noting that the agreement Ohio signed to join Mega Millions calls for the multistate lottery to be run by all the participating states.

However, Hogan said the important thing was to determine whether Ohio had retained enough control of the multistate lottery to satisfy the constitution.

Hogan said the fact that Ohio can withdraw from the lottery at any time without penalty means the Lottery Commission has kept sufficient control over Mega Millions.

A similar lawsuit has been filed in New York, which -- like Ohio -- joined Mega Millions in May.

The current estimated Mega Millions' jackpot is $165 million. The next drawing is Tuesday.

Other states in Mega Millions are Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and Virginia.

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