Racetrack Video Slots May Have to Wait in Ohio

by John Kady

Emergency legislation to authorize video slot machines at Ohio's seven racetracks is apparently dead in current session of the legislature.

Sen. President Richard Finan, a supporter of the bill, said reports of its demise "are probably true," but he acknowledged the bill would be introduced during the next session. The Ohio General Assembly will reconvene in January and face a large budget deficit. Supporters of the video slots bill had estimated it would generate about $500 million a year, with most of the money earmarked for primary and secondary educatiion.

Sen. Louis Blessing, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and sponsor of the bill, had hoped to push it through as emergency legislaton. That would allow the bill to become law without putting it up to a vote of the people.

Gov. Bob Taft, who has opposed the bill from the outset and threatened to veto it, stepped up his attack on the legislation in recent weeks. Taft said he not only would veto the bill but would actively work against any legislator who would vote to override his veto.

Blessing said not only Ohio opponents but gambling interests in neighboring states such as Indiana, Michigan, and West Virginia would also help finance opposition to the bill because they would lose revenue they now get from Ohioans at their casinos and racetracks with slot machines.

David Zanotti, chairman of the Ohio Roundtable, a Cleveland-based conservative group and a vocal opponent of the video slots, said they would turn Ohio tracks into "Atlantic City."

"Three years from now, when they don't hit their numbers, they will change the games and go to table games," Zanotti said.

He said the way the legislation is worded, it would allow the tracks to switch to table games. It was not immediately determined what form the new bill would take for 2003.