Racetrack VLT Referendum Fails in Ohio

For the third time in 16 years, Ohioans soundly rejected the expansion of gambling in Ohio, this time routing a racetrack-backed proposal to put video lottery terminals at seven tracks and two non-track locations in Cleveland.

Voters also approved a ban on smoking in most public buildings and rejected a tobacco-backed ban that would have exempted bars, enclosed parts of restaurants, and certain sporting venues. An increase in the state's minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $6.85 passed.

Issue 3, the VLT issue, was behind 1,611,700, or 58%, to 1,167,654, or 42%, with 72% of precincts reporting, according to unofficial results compiled by the Associated Press. Republican Ohio Sen. George Voinovich, who successfully fought casino ballot issues in 1990 and 1996, said Ohioans realized gambling backers who were selling the issue as a scholarship program would be its prime beneficiaries.

Racetrack officials couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

The "Ohio Learn and Earn" measure would have placed up to 31,000 gambling devices at the tracks. A portion of the revenue was to go to eligible public school students attending in-state colleges and universities.

It was the third proposal since 1990 to expand gambling in Ohio, where only horse racing, the lottery, and charitable games such as bingo are state-sanctioned.

The racetrack owners and developers who would have claimed 55% of VLT revenue spent at least $13 million on the campaign and promoted the 30% that would have gone to college scholarships. Opponents said the ad campaign inflated the amount going to scholarships.