New gaming appears in Kent

Bethany Jones

Got Skill? is a two-month-old game room off East Main Street, one of a few in Ohio that has legal slot machines. The owners and distributors of the gaming machines say they are games of skill that can be conducted under exemptions provided by Ohio’s Chari

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Have you driven down East Main Street lately and wondered what the heck is “Got Skill?”

It is one of many game rooms that have popped up across Ohio that claim to have legal slot machines.

Got Skill? opened a little more than two months ago, and it offers gambling to anyone over the age of 18. The machines start at 50 cents and go up to $4.

The game room has 16 Tic-Tac-Fruit slot machines. The machines differ from regular slot machines because they require a person to choose rows of fruits or shapes, and they must do it in a certain amount of time. Operators of these machines said this involves skill.

The machines are touch screen and they display a score like a regular slot machine. When a person wants to cash out, he or she hits a button to print out a ticket and can simply take the ticket to the attendant to redeem the winnings.

Marilyn Reis, fill-in employee at Got Skill?, said the highest winning amount on any one spin is between $4,000 and $5,000, but a person potentially could win much more than that.

She said the majority of patrons are between 30 and 60 years old.

Got Skill? does not serve alcohol and is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

The owner was contacted several times and was not available for comment.

So, are these establishments legal?

Owners and distributors of Tic-Tac-Fruit, the machines in question, said they are games of skill, which can be conducted under exemptions provided by Ohio’s Charitable Gambling Law.

Under Ohio Statue, illegal gambling in Ohio is defined as “games of chance.” It includes poker, craps, roulette or any other game in which a player gives anything of value in the hope of gain, the outcome of which is determined largely by chance.

Portage County Sheriff Duane Kaley said there are a lot of legal issues regarding these types of game rooms.

“We are aware of the existence of this thing starting to occur, and we are looking into it,” he said.

Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci said Got Skill? is the first game room to open in the county.

He said Ohio gambling laws were modified in September 2004. In the revision, two types of slot machines were established, slot machines and skilled-base amusement machines.

Vigluicci said owners and distributors of the Tic-Tac-Fruit machines are claiming that they fall into the exception of skill-based amusement machines.

He said he must wait for rulings on court cases involving games of skill in other Ohio counties before he can determine the legality of them.

Ohio Court Decisions

As of now, there have been no court cases in Ohio that have ruled the Tic-Tac-Fruit machines illegal.

Mark Foley, defense attorney, worked on two court cases involving skilled video gambling in Meigs County.

The first case dealt with the legality of Tic-Tac-Fruit machines. The manufacturers of the machine, Ohio Skill Games, filed suit because they wanted to establish that they were skill-based games.

Foley said the Tic-Tac-Fruit machines were specifically designed and built to be in compliance with Ohio law.

The court decided that Tic-Tac-Fruit was legal and monetary prizes could be distributed.

The second case involved Tic-Tac-Fruit machines being seized by the Department of Public Safety. He said in that case, the judge issued a preliminary injunction stopping the seizure of the machines. He said despite that, they continued to be seized.

Foley said a contempt action was filed against the agents and departments involved, and the case is now under appeal.

Foley said a similar case went to trial in Ashland County, and Tic-Tac-Fruit games were also found to be legal.

Kurt Gearhiser, an attorney representing Ohio Skill Games, said the Tic-Tac- Fruit machines were literally built around Ohio law.

Gearhiser said Ohio Skill Games spent about a year developing the machines, and they were released in 2004.

Ohio is the only state that requires a predominant amount of skill for it to be legal, he said.

Gearhiser said the difference between Tic-Tac-Fruit and regular slot machines is that regular slot machines are predetermined.

“If you’re player five and you go up to a slot machine, you’re going to win.,” Gearhiser said. “It’s going to award a winner to 76 and 78. The best slot machine player wins the same amount as the worst player.”

He said with Tic-Tac-Fruit, a player can win every time if they are good enough, or they can lose every time if they are bad enough.

Penalties of illegal gambling

The Attorney General’s office enforces charitable law such as bingo and poker, spokesman Mark Anthony said. He said Tic-Tac-Fruit games fall outside of that area, but the Attorney General’s office helps local jurisdictions prosecute.

“As the state’s top law office, we will help different government entities help prosecute and execute the states gambling laws,” he said.

Numerous machines have been seized in the state of Ohio, many by the Department of Public Safety, Anthony said.

He said anyone in the state of Ohio that is a liquor permit holder is in violation if they own these slot machines.

Anthony said another game, Gone Fishin or Chess Challenge, both the same game with different graphics, has also been determined to be illegal.

He said the Attorney General’s office has found that these games, along with Tic-Tac-Fruit machines, are illegal because they have governors on them. defines a governor as a feedback device on a machine or engine that is used to provide automatic control, as of speed, pressure or temperature.

The governor on these video machines eliminates how well a player can do mechanically, Anthony said.

He also said they are illegal because elements of chance greatly outweigh any skill. They are 25 percent skill compared to 75 percent chance, he said.

“We’re arguing that these games are games of chance. We think the games are clearly illegal,” he said.

“A player has one opportunity in 30,000 games to win the grand prize,”

Violation of Ohio’s Gambling Act can result in criminal as well as civil prosecution.

Gambling addiction

Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council of Problem Gambling, said most people are able to gamble recreationally without any problems, but between 3 and 4 percent of adults meet the criteria for problem gambling.

Whyte said college students should be particularly careful when gambling because youth and men between ages 12 to 17 and 18 to 24 are particularly at risk for gambling addiction.

Whyte said there is a long history of what he calls ‘gray’ machines in the United States, such as amusement machines that produce prizes or trivia machines that offer payouts. He said all could cause addictions.

“To an alcoholic, it doesn’t matter if it’s Grey Goose or Absolut, it’s the behavior that’s the problem,” he said.

He said it is important for people to remember that the higher the speed of play, the more likely it is to become addicting.

Whyte said people should also remember the “four knows” when gambling.

• Know the law – visit to learn about gambling laws in the state of Ohio.

• Know the risks – visit

• Know the warning signs.

• Know where to find help – call the National Council on Problem Gambling’s confidential helpline at 1-800-522-4700.

Contact enterprise reporter Bethany Jones at [email protected].