Ohio Groups Join Forces on VLT Ballot Question

by John Kady

Three groups seeking to legalize video lottery terminals at Ohio racetracks have decided to join forces rather than pursue their own ballot questions, which have generated conflict.

A Columbus-based group known as "Earn and Learn" dropped a section of its petition calling for a stand-alone VLT casino in Cincinnati. Penn National Gaming Inc., owner of Raceway Park harness track in Toledo and a lucrative riverboat casino on the Ohio River in Indiana, about 20 miles from Cincinnati, joined with the Earn and Learn after the Cincinnati casino plan was scuttled.

The third group, known as the Greater Cleveland Partnership, also refined its proposal and joined with the other two groups. Any non-racetrack Cleveland-area casinos would be subject to a $15-million fee up front.

Under the latest joint proposal, residents in communities with VLT parlors would be allowed to vote on full casino gambling in four years.

The combined proposal has not yet been sent to Attorney General Jim Petro who rejected the first petitions individually filed by the three groups. Petro said the original petitions failed to tell voters local governments would not be able to regulate hours of operation for the VLTs.

Six of the state's racetracks--Beulah Park, River Downs, Thistledown, Lebanon Raceway, Northfield Park, and Raceway Park--are on board with the combined petition. The only holdout is Scioto Downs, a Columbus harness track owned by MTR Gaming Group, operator of Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort in neighboring West Virginia.

"They want gambling, but they want table games included," Neil Clark, racing industry lobbyist, said of the Scioto Downs position.

The proponents must have 322,000 signatures of registered voters on the petitions by Aug. 7, deadline for the Nov. 7 ballot. A large portion of any VLT revenue would go toward education and economic development programs in the state.