Ohio VLT Ballot Measure Getting Plenty of Signatures

by John Kady

Supporters of video lottery terminals at Ohio's seven racetracks have collected 117,000 more signatures than needed to put the issue on the November ballot, though they must be validated.

David Hopcraft, a spokesman for "Earn and Learn," the driving force behind the petition drive, said petition signatures would continue to be gathered. The petitioners must have 322,000 valid signatures of Ohio voters to place the issue on the Nov. 7 ballot.

"We're going to keep on collecting those signatures," Hopcraft said. "We want to make sure we have plenty of valid signatures."

The signatures will have to be validated by the office of Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the Republican candidate for governor and an avowed opponent of expanded gambling in Ohio.

The amendment would allow VLTs at the state's seven racetracks--Beulah Park, River Downs, and Thistledown, all Thoroughbred; and Lebanon Raceway, Northfield Park, Raceway Park, and Scioto Downs, all Standardbred. It would also allow for two standalone VLT casinos in the Cleveland area.

Scioto Downs had refused to join the petition drive at the start earlier this year, but it will be covered by the amendment. The track had expressed interest in having table games as well as gaming machines.

"I am not commenting on that now," Hopcraft said. "We just say all seven racetracks and the two standalone casinos are covered."

Scioto Downs in Columbus is owned by MTR Gaming Group, which operates Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort in neighboring West Virginia.

The Greater Cleveland Partnership and Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns Raceway Park in Toledo and a riverboat casino in neighboring Indiana, joined the Earn and Learn group this spring. Both had initially said they would go it alone, but changed their minds after some adjustments were made in the amendment language.

Earn and Learn is pushing the vote on the premise VLT revenue would go toward education and economic development in Ohio.