by John Kady
Legislation that would place the issue of racetrack video lottery terminals on the Ohio ballot has been changed again as Democrats and Republicans square off over the state budget.
Democratic Sen. Louis Blessing, sponsor of the bill, changed the proposal to award a portion of the VLT revenue for a prescription drug program for low-income families. The original Senate version gave all of the proceeds to Ohio schools and scholarships for Ohio students.
The measure got hung up in a committee when Democrats demanded money for the prescription drug program.
The Ohio House of Representatives has passed its version of VLT bill as part of the state budget, which calls for a one-cent increase in the state sales tax. That tax would be rescinded if voters on Nov. 4 opt for VLTs at the state's seven racetracks.
According to published reports, the state would get 51.5% of VLT revenue, followed by the racetracks at 37.5%, purses at 8.5%, and local governments at 2.5%.
Blessing said he hopes to get the revamped Senate proposal approved by his chamber as a stand-alone measure not tied to the sales-tax hike.
"My thought is let's move it over to the House," Blessing said. "The (budget) conference committee will be working (the week of June 16), and we can work out our differences on this."
The legislation needs support of minority Democrats to get the necessary two-thirds legislative majority to put the issue on the ballot as a constitutional amendment. House Speaker Larry Householder has said the legislation, as a stand-alone issue as the Senate proposes, would have a rough time in his chamber.
Tom Smith, a spokesman for the 18-denomination Ohio Council of Churches, said his group opposes any type of VLT legislation. "This is simply a move to open the state to casino gambling," he said.