Ohio Ballot Vote on Racetrack VLTs Progresses

A November 2010 ballot question on racetrack video lottery terminals in Ohio moved a step closer to becoming reality Feb. 8.

LetOhioVote.org, which sued over Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland’s 2009 directive the Ohio Lottery install VLTs at the state’s seven racetracks, said Feb. 9 it filed more than 177,000 additional signatures. The group came up more than 27,000 signatures short in January.

According to published reports, only 16% of the extra 177,000 signatures must be certified to put the question on the ballot.

"Today’s filing should put us over the top in qualifying for November’s ballot,” LetOhioVote.org treasurer and committee member Gene Pierce said in a statement. “Once the secretary of state certifies that we’ve submitted the valid number of signatures, Ohioans will have an opportunity to decide the slots issue.”

The exact ballot language must be approved by state officials.

Ohio horse racing industry officials offered two scenarios: VLTs makes the ballot, or the number of qualified signatures isn’t sufficient, and Strickland would have the option to move forward with his plan. There could be other lawsuits under the second scenario.

The Ohio Supreme Court last year ruled in favor of LetOhioVote.org, saying the governor’s VLT plan is subject to a statewide referendum.

Ohio votes last November approved a referendum allowing casinos in the state’s four largest cities: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo. Casinos remain in the planning stages.

The source of the bulk of the funding for LetOhioVote.org still isn’t known, though some have alleged casino interests are seeking to protect themselves from further competition. Others believe racetrack VLTs have a good chance of passage given the 2009 vote on casino gambling.

LetOhioVote.org calls itself "a ballot issue committee established to seek a public vote on the expansion of government-sponsored gambling." There is no mention of whether it supports racetrack gaming or opposes it.

Strickland’s directive called for the state to receive 50% of gross revenue from VLTs, and the racetracks the other 50%. There were no provisions for horsemen in the form of revenue for purses and breed development, though the governor had urged tracks and horsemen to reach an agreement on a percentage.

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