Ohio Attorney General Rejects Ballot Language

by John Kady
Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro has rejected requests of three groups seeking to put the issue of video lottery terminals at racetracks on the ballot this year.

All three groups are seeking the 322,000 signatures of registered voters needed to place a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 7 ballot. The petitions must be authorized by Aug. 7, and the group with the most valid signatures will have its question placed on the ballot.

Petro, in a letter to all three groups, said petition language wasn't valid because it failed to tell voters that local governments would lose their ability to restrict the hours that gambling would be allowed. Petro said petition signers should be aware of the "significant erosion" of local authority to regulate the hours of operation of the gaming devices.

Representatives of all three groups said they are preparing language to meet Petro's specifications.

One of the groups, known as Ohio Legacy, is seeking to place VLTs at the state's seven racetracks and at two non-track casinos in Cleveland and one in Cincinnati. Under the Ohio Legacy proposal, communities with VLTs would be allowed to vote on full casino gambling in four years.

A group backed by Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns Raceway Park, Toledo harness track, wants to put up to 5,000 VLTs at racetracks only.

The latest group to join the battle, "the Greater Cleveland Partnership," submitted its request April 11. The group's proposal is similar to that of the Ohio Legacy group but calls for a $30-million fee for economic development at each site.

The three proposals earmark a significant amount of money for various educational projects such as scholarships. Gov. Bob Taft has adamantly opposed any expansion of gambling in Ohio.

Racetrack ownership in the state has created some intrigue. Raceway Park owner PNGI also owns a Lawrenceburg, Ind., riverboat casino that draws heavily from the Cincinnati area. The company has been accused of attempting to protect its Indiana interests by proposing a racetracks-only question.

Scioto Downs, a Columbus harness track, is owned by MTR Gaming Group, which owns Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort in West Virginia and plans to build Presque Isle Downs, a racino near Erie, Pa. Mountaineer and the proposed Pennsylvania site are located within easy driving distance of Cleveland, which could have up to four VLT casinos under the Ohio Legacy proposal.

MTR Gaming officials in the past have said gaming at Scioto Downs would complement the Mountaineer property.