Ohio Racetrack VLT Question on November Ballot

by John Kady

A referendum to allow video lottery terminals at seven racetracks and two stand-alone casinos in Ohio will be on the November ballot because supporters of the measure have obtained the required number of certified signatures.

The question, in the form of a constitutional amendment, will be on the Nov. 7 ballot as Issue 3, officials said.

The office of the Ohio Secretary of State announced Sept. 19 the additional 8,176 signatures needed to put the amendment on the ballot have been certified. The Ohio Learn and Earn Committee, which conducted the petition drive, came up short in its initial drive to obtain the 322,899 signatures needed, but received 10 days to collect additional signatures.

The committee submitted 43,879 additional signatures within the 10 days, and more than enough were certified to put the issue before Ohio voters.

"The committee, with its supplemental signatures, now has enough valid signatures to appear on the Nov. 7, 2006 ballot," the office of Secretary of State said.

The Ohio Learn and Earn Committee is conducting a widespread television campaign urging Ohio voters to pass the amendment, which calls for VLTs at Beulah Park and Scioto Downs in the Columbus market; River Downs near Cincinnati; Lebanon Raceway, located between Cincinnati and Dayton; Thistledown and Northfield Park near Cleveland; and Raceway Park in Toledo near the Michigan border. The two stand-alone VLT casinos would be in the Cleveland area.

The Ohio Learn and Earn Committee, in its television ads, promises the machines will produce an estimated $800 million for education in Ohio. The money would be in the form of scholarships for Ohio students at Ohio colleges and universities. The committee notes the money would be bound by law to go to the scholarships through the Ohio Board of Regents and not the state legislature.

The measure also would provide another $200 million a year for economic development in Ohio's 88 counties, and about $170 million a year for the state's horse racing industry. Ohio offers Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing, as well as limited Quarter Horse racing.

The Learn and Earn ballot initiative calls for gross VLT revenue to be awarded as follows: 30% to scholarship and grant programs, 8% to county and local governments for economic development; 6% for purses at tracks (non-track VLT casinos would contribute another 6% that would go to a common purse fund for horse racing); and 1% for gambling addiction services.

The Learn and Earn Committee said the remaining 55% wouldn't go to racetrack operators. After all costs are paid, the tracks, which must provide the infrastructure for VLT casinos, are projected to earn about 9.5% of gross revenue. Their share would be taxed at 35%, the committtee said.

Each facility with VLTs would be required to pay as a licensing fee an equal share of the estimated cost of a new gambling commission, and each facility would be required to pay a $15-million licensing fee upon opening.