COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Veterans and fraternal groups in Ohio began shutting down electronic raffle machines Thursday by order of the state's legal chief who considers the devices illegal slots games.
Attorney General Mike DeWine ordered the machines removed by Aug. 1. He had delayed enforcing a ban because lawmakers said they were considering legalizing the machines. But such legislation has not been introduced and DeWine issued the order Wednesday.
A letter from the head of DeWine's charitable law section was to veterans and fraternal groups.
Section Chief Peter Thomas wrote that DeWine wants to work with the groups but can't continue delaying enforcement because of legislative inaction on the issue. He said those same lawmakers have placed restrictions on Internet cafes that DeWine supported.
"There are no longer legitimate reasons for this office to delay enforcement," Thomas said.
The order came hours after veterans rallied at the Ohio Statehouse hoping to continue operating the machines, at least 670 of which are in use around the state.
"I just don't understand it. We have to fight like this so we can take care of veterans and other people," Bill Seagraves, head of the Ohio Veterans and Fraternal Charitable Coalition said.
Veterans' posts and lodges around Ohio have given some $5.4 million raised through the machines to charitable causes in the past two years. They have threatened to sue in what has already been a lengthy fight.
In May, DeWine angrily rebuked a promoter of the video raffle machines who served as a liaison to Seagraves' group, asking the businessman to retract statements DeWine said were a misstatement of his office's legal position on the games.
Tim Smith's letter last spring to member charities of the coalition said that DeWine is "fully in favor" of the terminals and agrees they are legal - a statement DeWine said was not true. Smith described "many meetings" with DeWine and others to work out details for accepting the machines statewide.
Smith - a consultant to Charitable Management & Capital Group, the vendor of the machines that are pitched to groups like the Masons, Eagles and Moose - described the devices as "a raffle form of bingo" that's legally allowed in Ohio.
In his letter Wednesday, Thomas said DeWine has been clear and consistent in his stance that the raffle machines "are slot machines and are prohibited under Ohio law."