Instant Racing Bid Alive, But 'Not Healthy'

A bid by Ohio racetracks to win approval for Instant Racing machines, which resemble video lottery terminals but are pari-mutuel in nature, is said to still have some life left despite an announcement by Gov. Ted Strickland that he would veto the measure.

Legislation for Instant Racing already passed the Ohio Senate by a 25-8 vote, and a House committee was scheduled to address the bill June 14.

“People have said it’s dead, but the Speaker of the House didn’t stop the chairman of the House committee from having a hearing,” Beulah Park owner Charlie Ruma said. “We believe the governor’s office got bad information and overreacted. We’re going to talk to the (administration), but it’s really not healthy right now.”

Industry officials said it’s possible the Instant Racing legislation has gotten confused with a plan by Strickland’s administration to ban cash prizes generated by video gaming machines located in bars and other establishments. Also, opponents claim Instant Racing machines are nothing more than video lottery terminals, which state voters rejected in a referendum this past November.

Ruma said about 35 lawmakers inspected Instant Racing machines June 13 as part of an educational event. He also said Strickland earlier told him personally he wanted to see the racing industry get help and wouldn’t stand in the way of that.

“If I knew then he would veto it, that would have been OK,” Ruma said. “I really feel betrayed by the governor.”

Ohio’s seven racetracks would be eligible for Instant Racing under the legislation. The three Thoroughbred tracks are Beulah Park near Columbus, River Downs near Cincinnati, and Thistledown near Cleveland; the four harness tracks are Lebanon Raceway near Dayton, Northfield Park near Cleveland, Raceway Park in Toledo, and Scioto Downs in Columbus.

Ohio racing industry officials have said their business is suffering because of competition from neighboring states, and the competition is about to increase on the state’s eastern border.

Wheeling Island Racetrack & Gaming Center, a Greyhound racino in West Virginia, already has VLTs and later this year will add table games to become a full-fledged casino. Voters in Hancock County, located just north of Wheeling, will vote June 30 on whether to allow Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort to add games such as blackjack, poker, and roulette. The two tracks draw heavily from Ohio.

Ruma said the Ohio racing industry must continue pushing for assistance.

“If the horsemen were organized and outraged as much as the track owners, they would be storming the statehouse,” Ruma said. “This is an absolute annihilation of their interests.”