Charitable Gambling Dealt Bad Hand, Casinos Open in Ohio

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June 12, 2011; Source: | Bingo built St. Clarence Catholic Church and paid the motel tab for a homeless army recruit. A small nonprofit acquired a much needed $55,000 handicap-accessible van through charity poker proceeds. Now leaders in Ohio fear that this revenue – for many, their main source of fundraising – will shrink as casinos gear up to open across the state.

Charitable gambling is big money for Ohio nonprofits. Between 2005 and 2009, bingo generated more than $850 million dollars for churches and organizations like the VFW. Charity poker raised millions more, and the state lottery produced $3.3 million for education. State leaders are nervous and for good reason. Ohio leaders fear the future of charitable gambling is bleak if their state follows the experience of others where casinos were permitted to open to help strapped budgets.

Organizations that depend on gambling proceeds for revenue are usually small nonprofits who cannot afford to have a development director or staff. For over thirty years, most Ohio religious schools and parishes depended on bingo to help reduce tuition costs. Bingo revenue has been on the decline for several years, but weekly bingo games became as much a social gathering as a fundraising event. As the younger generation has internet gambling options, leaders predict within six years, bingo games will fade away because of a lack of players – with or without a casino opening.

The Nautica Entertainment Complex opened in the summer of 2005 near downtown Cleveland. The owner’s plan to develop a casino fizzled, but it has blossomed into a year round locale that has raised millions for charity. Medina Creative Housing raised tens of thousands of dollars through a poker festival held there.Nautica has charity games scheduled through the end of the year, but with a casino opening close by in 2012, its future is uncertain.

State officials believe that the lottery will fare better than either charitable poker or bingo. Other states with both lotteries and casinos seeking the public’s cash have seen mixed results.

Leaders believe the best strategy to counteract the new casinos is figure out ways to join them. A bill in the legislature was introduced to allow nonprofits to raise funds with slot machines. Ohio nonprofits hope to keep in the game as casinos open their doors. —Nancy Knoche