COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Just days ahead of the opening of Ohio's first casino, state senators on Wednesday passed a wide-ranging gambling bill that aims to sort out the regulations governing casinos, racetracks and new video lottery terminals.
The 29-3 bipartisan vote came after a Senate panel stripped a provision that would have expanded charity card rooms from one Ohio county to all 88 counties. Charities can book the rooms to run poker games and use the proceeds for their cause. Cuyahoga County in northeast Ohio is currently the only county with such a facility.
Senate committee chairman Bill Coley said the issue would be taken up in a separate bill.
The Ohio House, which passed an earlier version, rejected the Senate changes to the bill on Wednesday, sending it to a negotiating committee.
House Speaker William Batchelder, a Medina Republican, said the move was to give lawmakers more time to examine the Senate's changes.
"There are a carload of tough issues here," Batchelder said, adding that he thought lawmakers could work out any tweaks to the bill by the end of next week. He said at least one problem he had with the measure — the expansion of charity card rooms — had already been removed.
Rep. Lou Blessing, the bill's sponsor, told his House colleagues to reject the changes.
"All we need to do is take more time, make sure we get it right," the Cincinnati Republican said.
Batchelder said state regulators and others advised him that there wasn't anything in the bill that needed to be in place before Monday's opening of the state's first casino in Cleveland.
There was little discussion about the legislation before the Senate passed it.
Coley, R-Middletown, told his Senate colleagues the bill would empower authorities to keep crime out of the casinos, while ensuring that local officers would be trained and equipped to deal with cases of petty theft to money laundering.
"I believe that we've been able to come up with a good piece of legislation, a bill that is fair to all parties, and a bill that gives Ohio the protections necessary to conduct a wide variety of gaming in this state," Coley said.
Senators also added a one-year moratorium on new Internet "sweepstakes" cafes in the state. Customers who play the games pay for Internet time or phone cards and use them to bet points on computers loaded with games such as poker or slots. Winners can get cash or merchandise prizes from the games, which are largely unregulated.
Legislative leaders have made the bill a priority as four voter-approved casinos are about to open their doors.
State regulators on Wednesday approved the operating license of Penn National Gaming Inc., which plans to open its casino in Toledo on May 29. Casinos in Columbus and Cincinnati are set to open later.
Recognizing the urgency to have the rules in place as the casinos open, senators agreed to add a clause to the bill that would make it immediately effective upon the governor's signature.
Batchelder said Republican Gov. John Kasich indicated to him on Wednesday morning that he was anxious to get the bill completed.
But, Batchelder said, "Obviously, we will not send it to the floor until we're confident of the meaning."
The bill also outlines a minimum number of live racing days at the state's seven horse tracks. And in an effort to further boost the horse racing industry, certain permit holders could pay a percentage of their commission from video lottery terminals to the state's Racing Commission to benefit breeding and racing in Ohio.
The measure also bolsters oversight of gambling. It gives the state inspector general certain powers to investigate conduct at casinos and keep watch over the employees of the state's attorney general who will act as law enforcement agents at the casinos.
Other provisions to the bill would let bingo halls remain open until 2 a.m. instead of midnight, and requires the state to complete a study on the current status of gambling addiction problems in Ohio.
Associated Press writer John Seewer contributed to this report from Toledo, Ohio.