Racetrack VLT Proposal in Ohio House Budget

by John Kady

The Ohio House of Representatives April 9 passed a t wo-year budget that opens the door for a public vote on video lottery terminals at Ohio's seven racetracks.

The House passed the legislation by a 53-48 vote and sent it to the Senate, where a vote is expected by early June. The bill contains a one-cent increase in the sales tax as a temporary measure that would expire June 30, 2004, if VLTs are legalized. If the VLT proposal is defeated at the polls, the tax would be extended another year to fund the budget.

VLTs could bring in between $500 miliion and $700 million a year for the state, according to estimated. Neal Carter, a lobbyist for VLTproponents, said each track could have a minimum 1,800 to 2,500 machines.

Ohio has three Thoroughbred tracks -- Beulah Park near Columbus, River Downs near Cincinnati, and Thistledown near Cleveland -- and four Standardbred tracks -- Lebanon Raceway, located between Cincinnati and Dayton; Northfield Park near Cleveland; Raceway Park in Toledo; and Scioto Downs in Columbus.

House speaker Larry Householder said the state would get 50% of the take from VLTs, while the racetracks and racing industry would get 40%, and 10% would go to administrative costs. The regulation of VLTs would be handled by the Ohio Lottery Commision.

The Ohio Senate was poised last year to enact emergency legislaton legalizing VLTs but backed off because of heated opposition by Gov. Bob Taft.

"We think this is the best way to go this time," Carter said. "We would have ended up with a vote of the people no matter which way we went. The opponents would have gotten enough signatures to force the issue to the ballot, so this is the way to go now."

Carter thinks the VLT proposal will be more acceptable to the general public because gaming would be located at racetacks.

"Ohio is losing millions of dollars to gambling interests in Michigan, West Virginia, and Indiana and we want to keep that money in Ohio," Clark said.

Clark said he believes Taft would soften his opposition if the people vote for VLTs.

The sales tax increase, which would also be extended to other areas such as laundries and and dry-cleaning and storage facilities, would bring in a little over $1 billion a year.