COLUMBUS, Ohio — A coalition of Ohio veterans and fraternal organizations that has clashed with Republican Gov. John Kasich over electronic raffle machines is planning its first-ever endorsement in a governor's race.
The Ohio Veterans and Fraternal Charitable Coalition, representing posts and lodges with about 2.1 million members, has scheduled candidate interviews for the first time in its 11-year history, The Columbus Dispatch reported Monday (http://bit.ly/1zjRPjA).
The endorsement meetings come as Kasich seeks re-election in November against Democratic challenger Ed FitzGerald, the Cuyahoga County executive.
The coalition is involved in a long-running dispute over machines declared illegal last year by Attorney General Mike DeWine.
DeWine, also a Republican, initially delayed enforcement against the slots-like machines as the coalition pursued legislation making them legal. The bill died after Kasich intervened and proposed alternative, legal technology developed through the Ohio Lottery.
Coalition Chairman Bill Seagraves said member organizations are pursuing the endorsement and gathering signatures aimed at getting a measure on Ohio's statewide ballot to legalize their machines. Individual veterans' posts may protest at Kasich campaign events.
"This issue is going to be alive, it's going to be there," Seagraves told the newspaper. Secretary Merle Pratt added, "All of our members are of voting age. We have a lot of clout."
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the administration simply brought a solution to the longstanding legal conundrum to state lawmakers.
"We told legislators that we had a better, legally assured path forward with machines, and House and Senate leadership agreed with us," he said.
After the legislation stalled and DeWine was to begin a crackdown on the machines, the coalition sued. A Franklin County court has temporarily blocked enforcement of the law against the machines.
Meanwhile, a legislative oversight panel has approved the administration proposal to spend $22.5 million on 1,200 machines from the Greek company Intralot for the veterans' and fraternal groups. The plan calls for lodges and posts to get 40 percent of proceeds, or about $7 million.
Veterans oppose this plan, saying their raffle machines are set up to generate more money for their charitable causes. The Intralot machines pay out 90 percent to players, versus 63 percent for the raffle machines.
One of Kasich's closest advisers, Bob Klaffky, is a lobbyist for the lottery's machine-maker, Intralot, while Seagraves' grandson works for Charitable Management Capital Group, the Ohio-based manufacturer of the raffle machines.
As the coalition awaits a court outcome and pursues its 2015 ballot initiative, member posts and lodges have ordered 675 of the new Intralot machines to hedge their bets.
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com