Legislative Route Chosen for Ohio Racetrack Slots

by John Kady

A bill to authorize video slot machines at Ohio' racetracks will be introduced in the state legislature and not sent to the voters as a constitutional amendment, a top legislator said.

Sen. Louis Blessing, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, canceled a hearing scheduled for Nov. 13 because of the change in plans. Blessing said his committee would begin hearings in the near future on a bill that would require the Ohio Lottery Commission to install the machines at Ohio's seven commercial racetracks.

Senate president Richard Finan said the decision to abandon the constitutional amendment was made because Ohio racetracks could not afford the campaign needed to support a proposal put before the voters.

"We talked to the tracks," Finan said. "And they told us they don't have the money to campaign for a public vote."

Finan also said: "I expect the Senate to pass the (video slots) bill."

House Speaker Larry Householder said he would poll his 59-member majority caucus on the issue. Housholder said he personally would support such legislation.

Most of the estimated $500 million a year from the slots would be earmarked for education. The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled the state's property tax-based education financing system is unconstitutional.

Gov. Bob Taft has voiced his opposition to racetrack gaming several times.

"They are looking at a veto," said Mary Anne Sharkey, the governor's director of communications. "It's going to be a tough fight."