Ohio is gearing up for the launch of sports betting on New Year’s Eve, but a lesser-known portion of the sports betting bill has been up and running for over five months.
On April 1, hundreds of veterans and fraternal organizations were able to operate electronic bingo machines, an electronic version of instant bingo that was authorized as part of the Ohio sports betting bill passed last December. Ohio sports betting officially kicks off on Jan. 1, 2023.
The e-bingo machines are much like modern slot machines, an adaptation of the paper ticket bingo games that charitable organizations have offered for years in order to raise money.
According to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, more than 800 veterans and fraternal groups are currently licensed to operate e-bingo.
E-bingo offers fundraising opportunities
Electronic bingo works a lot like a slot machine, with a seat in front of a video terminal where users can pay to play games of chance and win cash prizes. This is the first time electronic instant bingo machines have been available to veterans and fraternal groups like the American Legion, Moose Lodges and VFW halls.
Each location must apply for a license through the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. The e-bingo machines are subject to state regulations including:
- Only members and guests 18 and older can play the games
- May not be operated more than 12 hours in a single day between 10 a.m. and 2 a.m.
- Signage requirements include Ohio’s problem gambling helpline number, age minimum and other rules
E-bingo: slot-like terminals offering a variety of games
A Cincinnati-area Fraternal Order of the Eagles chapter flipped the switch on its e-bingo machines on April 1, the first day the machines were legal.
They installed the state maximum of 10 machines, in partnership with a manufacturer licensed through the state.
Ohio regularly approves new games for the machines, and each terminal offers users a choice of games. At the Mount Healthy Eagles, the e-bingo games include the football-themed “Ohio Joe,” an “Indiana Jones”-themed game and another called “Bananas” where players try to collect bananas with a monkey swinging on a vine taunting them.
Each game costs between 25 cents and $5. Payouts have climbed as high as $1,200, says Joel Muskovin, trustee for Mount Healthy Eagles.
Electronic bingo brings welcome revenue and longer stays
Muskovin says e-bingo draws a few additional guests during the lunch and after-work hours but that people don’t camp out and play all day. The machines are more of a secondary option for members already coming out for other reasons.
“It sort of supplemented our other activities,” Muskovin said. “We have tailgaters for the football games — there are die-hard fans that can’t miss a single play. Well, their spouse might not feel that way about football, so they might play the e-gaming machines.”
The additional revenue has been welcome for the small social club, which receives 25% of all revenue for its operational expenses. Another 25% goes to the organization’s charity efforts. The manufacturer takes the other 50%.
“It’s been very helpful,” Muskovin said. “We’ve been able to replace ancient furnishings in the bar. We’re in the process of replacing other things like the barstools that were pretty close to 20 years old.”
The Eagles regularly donate money to the local police and fire departments and organizations like the Shriners and March of Dimes. All Eagles chapters in Ohio send their donations through the state chapter.
According to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, more than 150 Eagles chapters in the state have added the machines, giving the organization a lot more charitable reach.
Ohio law clears up potential “bingo” legal debate
A recent U.S. Supreme Court case ruled that a Texas Native American tribe is allowed to continue operating electronic bingo machines after the state argued that its machines were not actually bingo.
In Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo v. Texas, the court ruled for the tribe, which Bloomberg legal analyst Stephen L. Carter described as, “an outcome that accords with my own view that tribal sovereignty should be as broad as possible.”
In his dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “A photograph from the record of this version of ‘bingo’ is appended to this opinion. It confirms that the electronic bingo played at the Speaking Rock Entertainment Center is about as close to real bingo as Bingo the famous dog.”
By regulating Ohio e-bingo as part of the sports betting law, Ohio will avoid any such arguments. Ohio’s law includes:
- Device and system specifications
- Applications and licenses for manufacturers and distributors
- Fees for monitoring and inspecting instant bingo systems
- Limits on the number of machines per location and hours of operation