Ohio Panel to Probe Illegal Video Gambling Devices

The Ohio State Racing Commission has opened its own investigation into a state Department of Public Safety report that video gambling machines were operating in a bar on property that includes the Cedar Downs off-track betting parlor in the northwest portion of the state.

The Ohio Department of Public Safety's investigative unit responded to an anonymous tip and visited "The Thirsty Pony" in Sandusky Sept. 17. According to a report by the investigative unit, agents found four video slot machines that took cash and dispensed credits good for use in a gift shop or for trips to Las Vegas.

An anonymous caller who tipped the department about the machines claimed some regular players received cash when they won games.

George Sortino, the owner of the bar, told one of the agents money from the machines is combined with business revenue, the report said. Sortino told the agent profit from the machines is split 50-50 after expenses with Frank Meiers, the owner of Apollo Vending who is under indictment for money laundering and gambling in Lorain, Ohio, the report said.

The agents eventually confiscated the devices and took them away as evidence. At the time of their removal, the machines contained a total of $171, the report said.

Profit from the machines was deposited into an account for S & S Realty Ltd., which includes hotels and the bar. Raceway Park, a harness track in Toledo near the Michigan border, operates Cedar Downs, one of two OTB parlors in Ohio.

During the racing commission's Oct. 20 meeting, executive director Sam Zonak said Mike White, general manager of Raceway Park, was made aware of the situation and is assisting the commission.

Video gambling machines are illegal in Ohio, though the horse racing industry for years has lobbied for passage of legislation to make them legal at tracks. State officials have been investigating video slots and "tip ticket" distributing organizations, as well as charitable organizations, for three years, the report said.

The racing commission initiated its own probe because the Cedar Downs OTB parlor falls under its jurisdiction.

"For a group of people that's trying to get slot machines, it's not the wisest move," racing commission chairman Scott Borgemenke said of having illegal gaming devices anywhere near an OTB parlor.