Ohio Racetrack Gaming: Only a Matter of Time?

by John Kady

The Ohio Senate May 30 concurred with House changes and approved a $1.17-billion budget bill that has no provisions for video lottery terminals at the state's seven racetracks. However, supporters of legislation to legalize VLTs are still confident the proposal will pass in the future.

"We get budget figures every three months, and if projections are not being met, we will bring up the video slot legislation again," said Sen. Louis Blessing, a VLT proponent whose district includes River Downs.

The budget bill includes a 31-cent increase in the cigarette tax, use of $600 million in rainy-day fund money, and cutbacks in other areas. Blessing said the budget was a patchwork of financial moves that will not stand up if the economy does not recover in a big way.

Blessing also said proponents of the racetrack VLT legislation have enough votes to pass the legislation if the state's revenues shrink again. Gov. Bob Taft has voiced his opposition to video slots.

"There will be a point where the legislature will have to do what what it has to do despite what the governor says," Blessing told The Blood-Horse. "Once the slots get up and running, they willl bring in about $400 million a year."

Blessing noted the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that the property tax system for financing public schools is unconstitutional.

"That's another wild card," Blessing said. "If they rule it unconstitutional again, where is the state going to get money to finance the schools?"

Tom Aldrich, chief executive officer at Northfield Park near Cleveland, said VLTs would also enable Ohio's three Thoroughbred and four Standardbred tracks to increase purses.

"There are more greener pastures in other states," Aldrich said, "Greener--as in the color of money. The industry is not an island. We can't stop what's going on around us."

Ohio racetracks compete with riverboat casinos in Indiana, casinos in Detroit, Mich., and "racinos" in West Virginia.