OH Court: Nothing Wrong With Gaming Probe

The Ohio Supreme Court said a gaming-related probe can continue.

The Ohio Supreme Court unanimously ruled April 30 it’s not illegal for Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to try to determine the parties behind an organization that challenged Gov. Ted Strickland’s 2009 directive on racetrack gaming.

Brunner had issued subpoenas to key officials behind LetOhioVote.org, whose 2009 lawsuit led to a petition drive to decide racetrack slots on the November 2010 ballot in Ohio. There has been no official word the measure will be on the ballot.

The Toledo Blade reported about $1.5 million came from LetOhioVote.org and a Virginia-based non-profit called New Models.

The developments over the past year have led to speculation backers of last year’s successful four-city casino referendum—Dan Gilbert, part owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and chairman of Quicken Loans; and Pennsylvania-based Penn National Gaming Inc.—had attempted to thwart the governor’s plan for racetrack video lottery terminals because of the potential competition.

The Blade reported that Acting Chief Justice Paul Pfeifer, in a concurring opinion, described the LetOhioVote.org initiative as “involving straw men, front organizations, red herrings, and smoke and mirrors, and winding its way from Ohio to the New Models ‘headquarters’ in a nondescript house in suburban McLean, Va., and back again, with possibly a couple of stops in the boardroom of a gaming company or in the luxury suite of a basketball arena.”

A spokesman for LetOhioVote.org told the Toledo newspaper no decision had been made on whether to comply with Brunner’s subpoenas.

The 2009 referendum authorizes full-scale casino gambling at four facilities, one each in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo. It could be several years before the first one is in operation.

The delay in Strickland's plan has placed the already struggling Ohio horse racing industry in a holding pattern. PNGI has a deal to purchase Beulah Park near Columbus, but Harrah’s Entertainment must soon decide whether to pursue its option to buy Thistledown near Cleveland.

River Downs near Cincinnati has entertained multiple offers from casino companies but none have amounted to a deal. Two other Ohio tracks, Raceway Park and Scioto Downs, are owned by casino companies PNGI and MTR Gaming Group, respectively.