Referendum Sought on Video Slots at Ohio Racetracks

by John Kady

Gambling proponents announced a proposed constitutional amendment March 24 to allow video slot machines at the seven racetracks in Ohio. The proposal, which calls for slots at non-track sites in Cincinnati and Cleveland, would also allow voters in counties with racetracks to vote in four years on establishing full casinos with table games in those areas.

"We hope to have the 320,000 signatures needed by June 30," said Neil Clark, a lobbyist for the horse racing industry. "The deadline is Aug. 4, so we should finish well in front of that."

Clark said 31,400 machines would be distributed at the state's seven racetracks. Ohio has three Thoroughbred tracks (Beulah Park near Columbus, River Downs near Cincinnati, and Thistledown near Cleveland), and four harness tracks (Lebanon Raceway between Cincinnati and Dayton, Northfield Park near Cleveland, Raceway Park in Toledo, and Scioto Downs in Columbus).

"We expect (the machines) to generate $2.8 billion a year," Clark said, "with $171 million of that going to horsemen (in the form of purses and breed development funds)."

Much of the money, Clark said, would go to the state for a program to provide scholarships for outstanding students at Ohio colleges.

Republican Ohio Gov. Bob Taft has opposed video slots for years, but Republican Rep. Bill Seitz of the Cincinnati area said Ohioans should be given the chance to vote on the issue because Ohio is losing money to bordering states with casino-style gaming.

"Ohio is losing hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to neighboring states, and it's only going to get worse when Pennsylvania goes on line," Seitz said.

Pennsylvania has enacted a law allowing up to 61,000 slot machines at racetracks and non-track locations throughout the state.