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Sweepstakes to race tracks: Alumnus finds niche in gaming law
With the passing of Ohio’s Casino Initiative in 2009, Mike Zatezalo’s practice was bound to mature beyond helping children win tickets at Chuck E. Cheese or play McDonald’s Monopoly.
The initiative, which permitted four casinos to be built in Ohio, attracted a score of slot manufacturers and investors to Kegler Brown Hill & Ritter’s gaming law practice, which Zatezalo developed and now heads as managing director.
Zatezalo, a 1975 graduate of The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, said while the caseload got heavier, it was manageable because the gaming community works collaboratively. In representing a number of gaming-related vendors, the firm commented on proposed legislation and communicated extensively with the Ohio Casino Control Commission and the Ohio Lottery Commission.
Gaming law, he said, primarily focuses on casinos, which are regulated by the Casino Control Commission. The lottery is overseen by the state and is connected with “racinos,” or gambling at horse tracks through video lottery terminals.
“My involvement with gaming law started as something that was just fun. It was almost the sidelight when I started it,” he said. “As I started meeting the top gaming lawyers from around the country, I developed a stronger interest in it.”
He added he never envisioned his career being geared toward gaming law, though, or even being set in Ohio. After graduating from Moritz, Zatezalo, who is an Ohio native, considered moving to California and was admitted to the California Bar. He decided to stay in Columbus for a position at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office as the head of the charitable law section, which required him to deal with licensing for charitable bingo and gambling.
“By the time I started working at the Attorney General’s Office and establishing roots in Ohio, I knew staying was the right decision ,” he said. “After you’ve been in Columbus a while, you realize how great a city it is and how great it is to practice law here.”
Zatezalo then worked as the head of consumer protection at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office for two years before beginning a private practice with his partner, Roger Sugarman.
In 1986, Zatezalo & Sugarman Co., L.P.A., which specialized in real estate, finance, administrative work, and litigation, merged with Kegler Brown. Zatezalo soon became the chair of the real estate and finance practice area for the firm. In 1999, he was elected the managing director of Kegler Brown and started developing the gaming law practice.
Since then, he’s taken on cases involving gaming equipment manufacturing, such as slot machines and video lottery terminals, and has represented businesses such as McDonald’s and Chuck E. Cheese on sweepstakes issues.
“There are several details that go into gaming that people don’t initially consider when they hear about this practice,” Zatezalo said. “It’s counterintuitive in a lot of ways. It’s an area where you have a lot of overlapping regulations – federal, state, and local. It becomes complex and is a specialty area since there are very few attorneys who practice it.”
Zatezalo said his experience in administrative law has been helpful with his practice.
“I’ve been used to doing things before state boards and agencies. The casino and the lottery commissions are both administrative bodies, and that experience helped tremendously,” he said. “My time in the Attorney General’s Office was also beneficial.”
Zatezalo also belongs to the International Masters of Gaming Law (IMGL), an organization he was invited to join around the same time he started Kegler Brown’s gaming law practice.
“It has been a great networking tool, and I’ve had a number of referrals from members of the group when someone needs counsel in Ohio,” he said. “IMGL is dedicated to educating professionals on all aspects of gaming law and connects you to colleagues across the globe.”
Zatezalo added his approach to gaming is similar to IMGL because of his interest in the gamers themselves.
“The psychology of gaming was always interesting to me,” he said. “I personally am not a gambler, and most of the attorneys that are involved in gaming really don’t gamble much at all. However, it’s an intriguing industry even though I don’t partake personally.”
This article was written by Sarah Pfledderer.