Ohio Policy Group: VLT Plan Violates Law

A public policy group believes a plan for racetrack VLTs violates Ohio law.

The Ohio Roundtable, a public policy organization, said an agreement between Republican Gov. John Kasich and casino developers that includes a provision for racetrack gaming is a “clear violation” of the Ohio Revised Code and state constitution.

The policy group, which generally opposes all forms of casino gambling, issued a statement June 15 soon after Kasich released details of an agreement with Rock Ohio Caesars, which is building full-scale casinos in Cincinnati and Cleveland. The agreement allows for the Ohio Lottery Commission to license the state’s seven racetracks for video lottery terminals.

The Ohio Roundtable sued over a similar plan offered by former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, who in 2009  issued a directive for the Ohio Lottery Commission to install VLTs at racetracks. The suit was dropped after the state Supreme Court ruled the VLT plan was subject to a statewide referendum; there never was a vote.

“Such a practice cannot become legal by edict of the governor or any ‘deal’ struck with casino operators,” Ohio Roundtable said in a statement. “If the governor wants to open racetrack casinos with Vegas-style slot machines, he is required by law to take such a proposal to the voters.

“If the governor wants to assist the casino industry, facilitate racetrack casinos, and promote more gambling in Ohio, he has every right to do so according to the rule of law. Neither this governor, nor any future governor, has the right, however, to take the law into his own hands and overrule the constitution of the people of Ohio.”

Despite the opposition, an official with Ohio Roundtable told Columbus Business First the organization hasn’t decided whether it will sue over the Kasich plan.

The agreement with casino developers became necessary after Kasich indicated the 33.5% tax rate the casinos will pay under a 2009 referendum isn’t adequate. The deal with Rock Ohio Caesars keeps the tax rate at 33.5% but calls for the developer to pay an additional $110 million over 10 years.

The racetrack VLT provision in the agreement sets the state tax rate at 33.5% as well. Under Strickland’s directive, the tax would have been 50%.

Kasich June 17 announced a similar deal with Penn National Gaming Inc., which is building casinos in Columbus and Toledo. Racetrack VLTs are part of the mix because both Rock Ohio Caesars and PNGI own racetracks in Ohio.