COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Gambling interests positioning for lucrative business as Ohio remakes its betting landscape donated nearly $1 million to a nonprofit group that helped successfully reelect Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a key decision-maker regarding the market’s future, an Associated Press review found.
The casino operators, slot machine makers, gaming technology companies, sports interests or their lobbyists that donated to the Republican Governors Association between January 2021 and this past September have stakes in Ohio’s state lottery, the $1 billion sports betting industry launching in Ohioon Jan. 1, or both.
During the same period, RGA funneled over $2.2 million through its campaign arm, RGA Right Direction PAC, to benefit DeWine’s successful reelection bid against three primary opponents and later Democrat Nan Whaley, records show. Most of that money went to two pro-DeWine committees: Free Ohio PAC and the Delaware-based dark money group Ohioans for Free and Fair Elections, whose public filings so far haven’t disclosed its organizers. The RGA did not respond to repeated AP requests for comment.
Those contributing companies that responded to AP requests for comment said their giving wasn’t earmarked for DeWine. Two said they pay annual membership dues to RGA and give to Democratic governors, as well.
As governor, DeWine controls appointments to two commissions that hold sway over the swirl of lucrative contracts, complex regulations and coveted licensing agreements in play as Ohio sets up its new sports gaming marketplace and weighs expanded lottery offerings.
Of incumbent Republican governors in the U.S. that the RGA worked to reelect, DeWine was the only one at the time of the giving who was in the thick of considering sports betting.
DeWine spokesperson Dan Tierney said the governor does not promise anything in exchange for political donations, noting that would be illegal.
In one case the AP turned up, one of the gambling companies, IGT Global Solutions, donated to the RGA, which donated to Right Direction PAC, which donated to Free Ohio PAC — all on the same day. The instance raises questions about whether RGA was used as a pass-through to benefit DeWine. All told, Right Direction PAC gave $1.05 million to Free Ohio and another $1.15 million to Ohioans for Free and Fair Elections as of September, records show.
IGT spokesperson Phil O’Shaughnessy said IGT has a long history of participating in the political process through bipartisan contributions to organizations like the RGA and its Democratic counterpart, and that all contributions are properly disclosed. Records show IGT gave the Democratic Governors Association donations totaling $300,000 in 2022.
Sheila Krumholz, executive director of OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan research group specializing in political giving, said the money moving into and out of RGA coffers follows a typical pattern of money in politics.
“To the average Ohio voter, it will be apparent that this is legal laundering of money,” she said. “It’s the pass-through, it’s the shell game, and it goes there and then it goes there. There’s no proof, ‘Yeah, we did that,’ but the circumstances make it pretty likely, if not evident, that this is how it was done.”
Funneling corporate dollars through nonprofit organizations and political action committees isn’t new. A virtually identical pattern surfaced during …….