Current licensees applying for renewal are subject to the same burden of proof regarding their suitability for licensure as new applicants, an Ohio Court of appeals held November 26. The court reversed a decision overturning a state gaming commission's decision to deny renewal to a licensee for omitting information on her application.
When the licensee at the center of the case, Vanessa Smith, tried to renew her casino gaming employee license in 2016, the Ohio Casino Control Commission informed her that it intended to deny her application on the grounds that she had provided false information by failing to disclose several legal issues when completing her application, including a DUI, other traffic infringements, civil judgments, corresponding wage garnishments, and a bankruptcy. Following a hearing, the Commission denied her license renewal, and Smith appealed.
On appeal, a state trial court reversed the decision on the grounds that the Commission had applied the wrong burden of proof in Smith’s case by erroneously requiring her to prove her eligibility by the clear and convincing evidence standard applied to new license applicants, and ordered the case remanded for the Commission to apply a different burden of proof. The Commission then appealed, and the case went up to a state Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals agreed with the Commission and reversed the lower court, affirming the denial of Smith’s renewal application and holding that, in terms of the burden of proof for license eligibility, Ohio law did not distinguish between applicants for new licenses and applicants for renewals.
Smith had argued that board rules create such a distinction, and only new license applicants should have to prove their suitability for licensure by clear and convincing evidence. The judge disagreed, noting that the relevant sections of casino licensing law do not make the distinction.
“Because the General Assembly did not single out the ‘initial’ casino gaming employee license for special treatment . . . the only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the statutory language is that the burden of proof . . . applies to all applicants for a casino gaming license, including renewal applicants such as Smith.” The burden of proof required for all applicants is “clear and convincing.”
The Commission’s factual findings on Smith’s past legal and financial troubles provided an independent reason for the denial of her license renewal, the court added; it remanded the case to a lower court for a decision on the merits.