Racetrack VLT Proposal on Back Burner in Ohio

by John Kady

A proposal to allow video lottery terminals at seven Ohio racetracks is still alive in the statehouse--but just barely.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly had been discussing revenue from video slots as a way to eliminate a budget deficit. However, Gov. Bob Taft opposed the concept, and the Ohio Senate took up a proposal to increase the state cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack.

The sponsors believed the money, added to funds taken from a state savings account "rainy day fund," would cover the shortfall this year and balance the budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2003.

Several Republican members of the Senate came out in opposition to the cigarette tax. Most of the opposition came from legislators from the Cincinnati area who said the tax would hurt retailers because Ohio residents could cross the river into Kentucky and get cigarettes at a much cheaper price.

Some members of the legislature have noted that Ohio is losing millions of dollars in revenue to riverboat casinos, three of which are located near Cincinnati in Indiana; to casinos in Detroit, Mich.; and to Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort and Wheeling Downs, two West Virginia racetracks with slot machines.

The legislature may still have to address the need for additional funding for schools, because the current method of generating funds has been declared unconstitutional.