by John Kady
The Ohio Senate Ways and Means Committee will begin hearings next week on legalizing video slot machines at Ohio racetracks.
"We start rocking and rolling next week," said Sen. Louis Blessing (R-Cincinnati), committee chairman. "I guess the issue is whether we just pass the legislation or put it on the ballot. We want to find out where the votes are."
Paul Tipps, a powerful Ohio lobbyist who is currently lining up support for slot machines, said legislation could be introduced before the end of the year. He said supporters of slots at racetracks "feel it has an excellent chance of passing" in the Ohio General Assembly.
Tipps said industry analysts have projected the terminals would bring in $500 million a year, with most of the funds being earmarked for education. That estimate is $100 million a year more than was originally projected.
The legislation could be folded into the constitutional amendment that set up the state lottery 25 years ago, Tipps said. He noted that the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled the state's present system of paying for education through property taxes is unconstitutional.
"That $500 million [from slots] would be a tremendous help to solve the education problems," Tipps said.
Tipps said there are several ways to overcome Governor Bob Taft's opposition to slot machines in the state. He indicated Taft could let the legislation become law without signing it, or the legislature could override Taft's decision to veto the bill.
The bill would be part of the Ohio lottey law so no new constitutional amendment would be needed.