In a flurry of activity June 28 both houses of the Ohio General Assembly passed legislation allowing racetracks to apply for video lottery terminal licenses.
The VLT provisions were attached to a racetrack relocation bill approved by the state Senate by a 27-6 vote. The House then concurred by a vote of 64-32, sending the measure to Republican Gov. John Kasich for his signature.
The Kasich administration authored the racetrack VLT and related casino tax provisions in an agreement with developers of full-scale casinos, so the governor is expected to sign the legislation. Before the legislature took action, the VLT language was only an administrative directive.
At least one public policy group has threatened a lawsuit on the grounds racetrack VLTs, like full-scale casinos, must be approved via statewide referendum.
The state tax on racetrack gaming machines would be set at 33.5%, the same tax that will be paid by four full-scale casinos authorized in a 2009 constitutional amendment. It will be up to the tracks, horsemen, and breeders to determine how much revenue will go to the horse racing industry in the form of purses and breed development funds.
Racetracks can ask the Ohio State Racing Commission for approval to relocate. Penn National Gaming Inc., which is building casinos in Columbus and Toledo and owns two tracks, has said it wants to move Beulah Park near Columbus to the Dayton area and Raceway Park in Toledo to the Youngstown area. PNGI sees those two markets are underserved for gaming.
The bill passed June 28 and includes a special provision for Lebanon Raceway, a harness track between Cincinnati and Dayton. The owners of the license can request to move within 20 miles of the track’s existing location at the Warren County fairgrounds.
Lebanon officials had balked at the plan by PNGI to move to Dayton because they were considering a move closer to that market.
Under the bill racetracks can apply to the Ohio Lottery Commission for VLT licenses. All seven tracks—three Thoroughbred and four harness—have indicated they want gaming machines.