Ohio Panel on Record as Opposing Casino Plan

The Ohio State Racing Commission is opposing a ballot question on casinos.

The Ohio State Racing Commission voted Aug. 20 to officially oppose a November referendum to authorize full casino gambling in the state’s four largest cities.

The five-member panel voted unanimously to prepare a resolution expressing its opposition to “Issue 3,” which would allow for four casinos, one each in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo. Last year, the OSRC adopted a resolution opposing “Issue 6,” which called for a casino in Clinton County in the southwestern portion of the state.

Commissioner Jerry Chabler, who made the motion for the resolution, said the commission supports implementation of racetrack video lottery terminals under a directive by Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, but opposes the broad casino measure because it could hurt horse racing in Ohio.

Chabler, on the board of directors of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, supported Issue 3 just a few months ago, but said he changed his mind. He outlined his case in an Aug. 15 column published in the Toledo Blade newspaper.

Chabler said Issue 3 authorizes but doesn’t mandate the casinos be built; there is no timeline for construction of casinos; there are no provisions for payment of infrastructure improvements; and the casinos would pay the state 33% of gaming revenue. The state tax rate under Strickland’s VLT directive is 50%.

Chabler argued that a referendum amending the Ohio constitution should be more restrictive.

“If all these provisions can be added to our constitution, certainly this plan could and should guarantee that casino operators pay a fair price for the monopolies they seek, build within a certain time frame, and not burden taxpayers with infrastructure improvements needed to maximize casino profits,” Chabler said in his column.

One of the referendum proponents is Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns Raceway Park, a Toledo harness track, and would build the Toledo casino. The company has not yet expressed its intentions for VLTs at Raceway Park, which sits near the Michigan border.

Chabler said he expects his about-face to lead some to question his motivation as a racing commissioner, but said he simply weighed the benefits of the casino plan versus the racetrack VLT plan.

The Ohio Supreme Court Sept. 2 will consider legal challenges to the VLT directive. Each of the state’s seven tracks must make an initial $13-million license fee payment by Sept. 15.

Because the directive contained no language for purses and breed development, racetracks and horsemen’s groups are negotiating the split.