More Than 600,000 Signatures for Ohio VLT Referendum

by John Kady
Supporters of video lottery terminals at the seven racetracks in Ohio have submitted 624,625 signatures to put the issue on the November ballot.

The signatures were presented Aug. 1 in 187 boxes to the office of Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who will submit the signatures to the 88 county election boards for validation. Only 322,000 valid signatures are needed to put the proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot.

An estimated $800 million a year from VLTs would be used to finance scholarships for Ohio students at Ohio colleges and universities. Another $200 million a year would be distributed for economic development in all of the state's counties.

The horse racing industry also would share in the revenue. About $171 million would go to the racing industry, though a breakdown on specific splits is not yet available.

"Ohioans have seen the price of a college education race beyond their economic means, and they clearly want help that does not throw youngsters into a sea of crippling debt," said Charlie Ruma, owner of Beulah Park in Grove City, Ohio, and chairman of the Ohio Learn and Earn Committee, which conducted the petition drive.

The amendment calls for the distribution of 31,400 VLTs at seven tracks: Beulah Park, River Downs, and Thistledown, all Thoroughbred; and Lebanon Raceway, Northfield Park, Raceway Park, and Scioto Downs, all Standardbred.

The amendment also calls for the establishment of two stand-alone VLT casinos in the Cleveland area and would allow for a vote on table games in four years.

Revenue from the Ohio Learn and Earn project would never go through the legislature, as does money from the lottery and the tobacco settlement, Ruma said. Ohio is losing money to neighboring states that have VLTs or full casino gambling.

"It's time to keep Ohio money in Ohio," Ruma said.