Going all in: John Barron ’01 a high-roller in Ohio casinos
From the pit bosses to the winning percentage on the slots, John Barron ’01 knows every casino in the Ohio like the back of his hand. He can tell you about the type of felt used on the roulette tables and knows every passage, back staircase, and security camera. He knows the procedures that are followed when you hit it big — and those if you try to cheat the house.
But, he’s never placed a bet. Nor will he anytime soon. He is the deputy executive director and general counsel for the Ohio Casino Control Commission (OCCC).
When Barron started in the position just over a year ago, the agency was new and tasked with implementing the legislation that allowed casinos to open in the state for the first time.
“I joke a lot now about my first day on the job,” Barron said. “It was basically an empty floor with two people. No computers, no copiers, no email, no coffee. … I answered the phones. We didn’t even know where to pick up the mail. It was a bit overwhelming coming from the Ohio Senate, which has decades of resources at its fingertips.”
Since that time, Barron has helped build the agency from the ground up. He has written and implemented more than 200 new casino regulations, which oversee everything from who can be hired in gaming positions to the type of dice used by the house, licensing requirements, security, the transfer of money, and advertising.
“We can look at other states for guidance, but at the end of the day, this is Ohio – our law, our constitution, and our culture are different than, say, New Jersey,” Barron said. “There really wasn’t any magic solution for getting this done. We had to learn on the job, and we did a lot of research and homework.”
Following the regulations drafted by Barron, casinos are now open in Cleveland, Toledo, and Columbus. As a law enforcement agency, OCCC employees, including Barron, can flash a badge and gain access to any part of any casino. When they do, it is a safe bet that all eyes are on them as they walk the floor and the underbelly of the casino operations. But, Barron and other OCCC employees are not allowed to step foot in any Ohio casino, or any casino owned by an Ohio casino operator, unless on official business.
While Barron did not have any previous gaming experience, he did have a decade of experience working in public service for the state of Ohio. For nearly four years before joining OCCC, he was the Senate majority legal counsel in the Ohio Statehouse, where he played a significant role in drafting the casino legislation.
“For the casino legislation, the Ohio House and Ohio Senate drafted different versions that had to be merged together,” Barron said. At the time the legislation was passed, the Ohio’s legislative bodies were controlled by different parties. “There were similarities to the bills, but we had to get together and make some compromises. It really was a true bipartisan effort.”
While working for the Ohio Senate, Barron often staffed both judiciary committees and a general government oversight committee. However, when any bill was going to the floor, he could be asked a question by a member.
“It is hard to describe a typical day in the Ohio Senate,” Barron said. “If there was testimony going on, there might be questions for legal counsel. It was common for a member to say, ‘Hey John, is this 500-page bill constitutional? Are there any legal problems?’ It is all issue-spotting. I really learned to think on my feet. Also, the longer you are there, the more you learn to anticipate these problems and get ahead of them by meeting with both sides of the issue up front. You’re not doing your job as legal counsel if you don’t tell an elected official that the law, as drafted, doesn’t work.”
Barron’s career started when an internship he secured his third year of law school turned into a full-time position with the Ohio Attorney General. He worked for several sections, including the chief counsel section and provided legal advice to statewide elected officials, including answering many constitutional, ethics, labor, and contracting questions.
“One of the great things for a young attorney working in state government is you have so much responsibility early in your career,” Barron said. “There are also not a lot of places where you get to practice constitutional law.”
After a quick stop in the state auditor’s office, Barron accepted the position of deputy legal counsel for Ohio Gov. Bob Taft.
“As a young attorney, learning to be ready to answer any legal question the governor or his advisors might ask can be intimidating,” Barron said. “There is such a wide variety of questions. I had to learn quickly to be able to give the answer – and make sure it is the right answer. If I didn’t know, I had to say that and go find out the answer. You don’t always have the opportunity to go back and research for three or four hours. If you are in a meeting, and the governor wants to know the answer to a question, you need to be ready.”
Barron left the governor’s office for the Ohio Department of Development where he was the chief legal counsel and focused on encouraging business to come to Ohio or stay through tax incentives and grant programs. He worked with Ohio’s Third Frontier Program and collaborated with other state agencies. He spent a year at the Delaware County development office before heading to the Ohio Senate.
“Law school really did teach me to think, and to think on my feet,” Barron said. “With the Socratic method, you are sort of shocked when a professor calls on you and is trying to get you further and further out on that branch. Being taught how to respond to that type of questioning has served me well in being able to communicate effectively with the elected and appointed officials whom I have represented.”