OH Supreme Court: Racetrack VLTs Need Vote

The Ohio Supreme Court said voters should have a say in racetrack VLTs.

The Ohio Supreme Court Sept. 21 gave opponents of installing video lottery terminals at racetracks the chance to ask voters to repeal the plan.

In a 6-1 ruling, the high court ruled in favor of LetOhioVote.org, which seeks to put the question on the November 2010 ballot. The group challenged Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner’s rejection of its petitions.

The court ordered Brunner to accept the group’s petitions, allowing the referendum process to go forward.

In their decision, justices overrode language that state lawmakers had attached to the VLT plan that sought to shield it from such a vote. Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland authorized the machines by executive order, and the legislature included their proceeds as part of the state budget, which now faces a nearly $1-billion hole.

But the court rejected the state’s argument that VLT revenue was an “appropriation” that, by definition, is shielded from the referendum process.

In writing for the majority, Justice Terrence O’Donnell noted that passages in the budget bill that describe the VLT plan are separate from the line item in the bill that directs money from the Ohio Lottery Commission to education. The court said budget provisions can’t “merely relate” to appropriations and be shielded.

The ruling specifically noted it’s not up to the court to worry about the impact of its decisions on the state budget.

Justice Paul Pfeifer was the sole dissenter. He said he views the VLT proceeds as an appropriation.

The gaming plan, he wrote, “is no mere legislative add-on, snuck into a mammoth bill. Instead, the VLT legislation is at the very heart of the budget bill, at the very heart of how Ohio is going to pay for its spending over the next two years. Without VLT-enabling legislation, the budget crumbles.”