Racetrack Gaming Petitions Circulating in Ohio

by John Kady

Supporters of video lottery terminals at Ohio racetracks have started circulating petitions to put the issue on this year's November ballot.

Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro had rejected the first set of petitions because of the language of the proposed constitutional amendment. Petro said the first set of petitions failed to tell voters local governments wouldn't be able to regulate hours of operation. The language was corrected, and Petro approved the revised petition.

The Columbus group "Earn and Learn," Penn National Gaming Inc., and the Greater Cleveland Partnership have joined forces to support the amendment. The combined proposal calls for VLTs at the state's seven tracks, and two stand-alone casinos in Cleveland. PNGI and the Cleveland group had planned to go it alone until the Earn and Learn group dropped a proposal for a stand-alone casino in Cincinnati.

PNGI owns Raceway Park in Toledo and a riverboat casino in Indiana, 20 miles from Cincinnati.

Greater Cleveland Partnership joined the group after some other changes were made. Any non-racetrack Cleveland-area casino would be subject to a $15 million fee up front.

The Thoroughbred racetracks involved are Beulah Park near Columbus, River Downs near Cincinnati, and Thistledown near Cleveland. The harness tracks are Lebanon Raceway, located between Cincinnati and Dayton; Northfield Park near Cleveland; and Raceway Park. Mike Hopcraft, a spokesman for Earn and Learn, said the only track not is Scioto Downs.

"The track is listed in the amendment but it's not supporting us now," Hopcraft said.

Scioto Downs is owned by MTR Gaming Group, which owns Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort in neighboring West Virginia. The company would like table games included in the Ohio ballot question.

John Brabender, a spokesman for MTR Gaming, believes the proposal is to heavily lean toward Cleveland, while Columbus and Cincinnati are being ignored.

Under the latest proposal, communities with stand-alone casinos would be allowed to vote on full casinos, including table games, in four years. Proponents have until Aug. 7 t o gather the signatures of 322,800 registered voters to put the proposal on the Nov. 7 ballot.