Compromise on Ohio VLTs as Deadline Looms

by John Kady

A compromise proposal to put the issue of racetrack video lottery terminals before voters has been offered in the Ohio Senate, though it must pass the General Assembly by Dec. 3 if it is to make the ballot.

The Senate in October passed legislation to put VLTs on the primary ballot on March 2, 2004. Revenue from that proposal would go toward scholarships for Ohio high school students who go to colleges and universities in the state. The legislation was sent to the House, where it has languished.

House speaker Larry Householder believes the money raised by VLTs should go to the state's general revenue fund. Sen. Louis Blessing, a leading supporter of racetrack gaming, proposed an amendment that would put the money into the general revenue fund and rescind a one-cent increase in the state sales tax.

Blessing said the money could be placed into the general fund until sales-tax revenue is made up through VLTs. After that, the revenue would revert to education programs in the state.

"If we don't do this now, this issue is gone for a long time and the people of Ohio will have no ability to vote on it," Blessing said. "It will be at least another two years. What are we going to do? Continue to lose money to other states?"

Each track would install 1,800 to 2,500 machines. According to the bill, racetracks would get 37.5% of gross revenue and purses 9.75%. Counties in which tracks--the lottery agents--are located would get one-half of 1%, and municipalities one-quarter of 1%. The state would get 52% of gross revenue.