Battle Over Track VLTs May Begin in Earnest in Ohio

by John Kady

A resolution to place the issue of racetrack video lottery terminals on the November ballot will be introduced in the Ohio Senate, probably the week of June 3, Sen. Louis Blessing said. The Senate recently removed a proposal for VLTs from the proposed state budget.

Under Blessing's proposal, Gov. Bob Taft , who opposes racetrack gaming, wouldn't be able to veto the resolution because it would go directly to a vote of the people.

The House budget legislation contained a VLT proposal hooked to a one-cent increase in the sales tax. If the VLT bill passed, the sales tax increase would be eliminated. However, if the legislature went that route, Taft would be able to veto the plan.

If the Senate enacts the resolution, it would go to a Senate-House conference committee where the differences would be ironed out.

Paul Tipps, one of Ohio's most powerful lobbyists, said the only way Taft could stop VLTs if the voters approve of them would be to veto the enabling legislation.

"He could not veto a constitutional amendment passed by the people, but he could veto the enabling legislation, setting the rules and guidelines for the machines," Tipps said. "However, it is doubtful he would do that. It would mean he would be going against the will of the people."

Blessing, Tipps, and other proponents of VLTs said Ohio is losing too much money to riverboat casinos and racinos in neighboring states. Tipps said the owners of those casinos and racetracks aren't going to sit and just watch the vote. Tipps said a lot of the money that would be used to fight the constitutional amendment would come from out-of-state interests and be funneled to traditional gambling opponents in Ohio.

"(Outside interests) are already starting, trying to keep the issue off the ballot," Tipps said. "They have already employed several lobbyists in Columbus to work for them."

Under the resolution, each of the seven tracks in the state would be required to have no less than 1,800 VLTs and no more than 2,500. The amendment would also contain a clause targeting a certain percentage of the funds, estimated at $500 million to $700 million a year, for scholarships for Ohio students at Ohio colleges and universities.