OH Governor Budgets for Racetrack VLTs

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, in search of money to balance the state budget, on June 19 proposed putting racetrack video lottery terminals into the budget bill.

Strickland previously has said he doesn’t favor expanded gambling to spur economic development, but during a press conference indicated racetrack VLTs offer a way to raise revenue and not raise taxes.

This spring, the Ohio State Racing Commission, which is comprised of Strickland appointees, unveiled a plan for racetrack VLTs at the state’s seven tracks. The OSRC plan was detailed but didn’t provide revenue splits for purses and breed development.

Strickland, a Democrat, said he met with House and Senate leaders the morning of June 19 to begin dialogue on the budget plan. He said VLTs at tracks only would provide about $933 million over the biennium, with total new revenue for the state of $735 million.

“This has been a difficult choice for me, but I believe it’s a necessary one,” Strickland said. “It’s contrary to what I thought I would have to do.”

Strickland said he prefers the legislative route rather than a ballot measure so revenue can be produced in a “timely way” without a tax increase. He said his budget doesn’t raise taxes, cut education funding, or “impact the safety net for the state’s most valuable citizens.”

The two-year budget kicks in July 1. The budget shortfall is about $3.2 billion.

Racetracks, the governor said, are in existing communities that have gambling. “They are discreet facilities that would be in locations that for a period of time have been acceptable to communities,” he said. “They are age-appropriate venues.”

Strickland also said the state of the racing industry wasn't the deciding factor in suggesting racetrack VLTs.

"I've known for a long time this was an industry that was struggling," Strickland said. "But it was not a prominent part of my decision-making."

That comment puts in question horse racing's share of VLT revenue after negotiations.

MTR Gaming Group, which owns Scioto Downs, a harness track in Columbus, issued a statement after Strickland's announcement.

“We applaud Gov. Stickland for his decisive action in including racetrack video lottery terminals in the state budget,” MTR president and chief executive officer Robert Griffin said. “His action will not only provide vital revenue to the state of Ohio, but will preserve and create employment in the Ohio racing industry.”

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