Proposal Puts Racetrack VLTs on Ohio Ballot

By John Kady

The issue of video lottery terminals at Ohio racetracks is again being discussed in the Ohio General Assembly. The latest proposal would put the question up for public vote later this year.

Last November, the Ohio Senate supported emergency legislaton that would have taken effect immediately without a vote of the people. Fierce opposition from Gov. Bob Taft scuttled the measure.

Now, House Republicans are contemplating a proposal that would increase the Ohio sales tax by one cent as a temporary measure. The tax increase would then be put on the ballot in November along with racetrack VLTs. The referendum would enable Ohioans to chose either the sales tax hike or VLTs as a means to raise revenue.

"I'd say there was a 50-50 chance of that happening," said Rep. James Trakas, a member of the House Republican leadership.

The House is working on Taft's $49.2-billion budget, and members believe at least $4 billion in cuts must be made or increased revenue sources must be found. The VLTs would bring in an estimated $700 million every two years.

Proponents of VLTs say Ohioans are spending millions at casinos in Indiana, Michigan, and West Virginia.

Ohio has seven commercial racetracks, three Thoroughbred and four Standardbred. Recent reports from the Ohio State Racing Commission show a decline in total handle in the state in 2003 compared with the same period in 2002.