Racetrack VLTs Go Down to the Wire in Ohio Senate

by John Kady

The issue of video lottery terminals at Ohio racetracks still has a chance for passage in the state Senate, though it may be a longshot.

Sen. Kevin Coughlin, a Republican and chairman of the committee scheduled to hold hearings on the bill, said it was killed when no agreement could be reached on the distribution of the money. As originally drafted the bill, in the form of a constitutional amendment, had ticketed all of the estimated $500 million to $700 million year in revenue for schools.

Democrats wanted half of the money to go for a prescription drug program for low-income families and senior citizens.

The majority Republicans in both chambers of the legislature needed the Democratic votes for the two-thirds majority needed to place the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot as a constitutional amendment. Coughlin said Republicans wanted all of the money to go to education.

The legislature is expected to adjourn the week of June 23 for the summer, and when it returns in September, there may not be enough time to revive the issue and get it on the ballot by Nov. 4.

"It's a great day for Ohioans," said Sen. James Jacobs, a Republican opponent of VLTs. "They found they couldn't get the votes. It's dead now, but this thing is like a black cloud, and when the state gets into financial trouble again, I am sure it will come up again."

Paul Tipps, a lobbyist for the racing industry, said there is still a chance the resolution will pass the Senate before it adjourns. "It's just a breakdown in communications," Tipps said. "I think the comittee will act on it (June 25), and it will pass the Senate and be sent to the House."

The House had passed VLT legislation as part of the budget, but it was removed in a conference committee. House Speaker Larry Householder said his chamber favors a resolution that would use all of the money for education.

"The money issue is still around," he said.

Corwin Nixon, a former president of the United States Trotting Association who served 30 years in the Ohio House of Representatives, said if the VLT bill isn't enacted it could be the beginning of the end of horse racing in Ohio.

"The horsemen need help," said Nixon, who operates Standardbred race meets at Lebanon Raceway. "It would have meant bigger purses, and that would mean better horses."

Tom Smith, spokesman for the 18-denomination Ohio Council of Churches, said allowing VLTs at the tracks would open the state to casino gambling. "Those video slots are the crack cocaine of gambling," he said.

Proponents of VLTs have argued that Ohio is losing millions of dollars a year by residents gambling at casinos in neighboring states.