Senate Researches Racetrack VLTs in Ohio

The Ohio Senate has begun research to see whether the question of racetrack video lottery terminals can be put on the ballot in the seven counties that have tracks. That news, reported by Cleveland Plain Dealer, revives the issue of using gaming to bolster the state's coffers.

Gov. Bob Taft has said he would support VLTs only if voters approve. During a meeting in March with Speaker of the House Larry Householder and Senate President Richard Finan, the governor reportedly shot down the plan for racetrack VLTs because they would in effect create casinos.

The state needs money to fund its education program and, as the newspaper reported Thursday, also needs revenue to offset a decline in tax receipts. Income from taxes is expected to be $850 million short of projections through early 2003.

The budget shortfall has left racing industry representatives hopeful racetrack gaming still has a shot in Ohio. The three Thoroughbred and four Standardbred tracks in the state have had trouble maintaining purse structures that can compete with those of tracks in neighboring states.

On a positive note in Ohio, total handle from Jan. 1 through Feb. 24 was $87.5 million, up from $81.9 million from the same period in 2000. The figure includes money wagered on live racing and simulcasts; the total number of "days" at the seven tracks and two off-track betting parlors was up by 57 in 2001 compared with 2000.

For the first time since full-card simulcasting became legal in 1996, two tracks in the Columbus market have been open at the same time. For 55 days through Feb. 24, Beulah Park, now open for live racing, averaged $254,952 in total daily on-site handle, and Scioto Downs, a harness track located 15 minutes away, averaged $101,131 for simulcasts.

Beulah has lost about $100,000 a day in handle from last year, so it appears the market's wagering dollars have just been spread out over the two tracks.