Backers Withdraw

 
Backers withdraw petitions for Ohio slots vote

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Julie Carr Smyth, ASSOCIATED PRESS, 6/28/10. COLUMBUS — A challenge to racetrack slot machines was pulled from November’s ballot on Monday, and Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland moved swiftly toward getting the budget-saving gambling devices up and running.

The Legislature had approved a plan from Strickland last summer to allow the lottery-run slot machines to raise as much as $933 million to balance the state’s current two-year budget.

LetOhioVote argued that the issue should be subject to a referendum of voters, and the state’s high court agreed. That ruling stopped the state from moving forward with the slots.

In a Monday letter to elections chief Jennifer Brunner withdrawing its petitions, LetOhioVote.org said it had achieved its goal of making sure important questions surrounding the new form of gambling were answered.

The group noted that Ohio voters authorized casinos in four big cities last fall and created a new Casino Control Commission too oversee them.

They also noted Strickland’s promise to seek a declaratory judgment asking the courts to settle an outstanding legal question about the devices: Are video slots banned under anti-gambling constitutional language, or allowed as an extension of the state lottery?

“In light of these subsequent developments, the Committee believes that its ultimate goal — that new gaming proposals be subjected to a thorough and thoughtful review — will be achieved,” committee members Tom Brinkman and David Hansen wrote.

Strickland plans to seek the declaratory judgment as soon as possible, said spokeswoman Amanda Wurst.

“We are finalizing our discussions with the attorney general’s office to determine how we best move forward in our legal arguments,” Wurst said.

Withdrawal of the referendum was widely anticipated as the state’s gambling landscape evolved over the past year.

The decision follows final action by the racing commission last week on the sale of two of the tracks to two out-of-state gambling giants, Las Vegas-based Harrah’s Entertainment and Wyossiming, Pa.-based Penn National Gaming.

Penn is the developer of two of four casinos Ohio voters approved last fall. Harrah’s has a contingency agreement with the developer of the other two, Rock Ventures, that could put it in charge of their operation.

Market watchers had theorized that ties between racetrack and casino interests would eliminate the business rivalry that likely contributed to LetOhioVote.org’s push for a vote on slots. The ballot issue and an associated lawsuit effectively sidelined the new machines just ahead of the 2009 push to legalize casinos.

A single company, Virginia-based New Models, is listed as the sole contributor to the LetOhioVote.org committee. Brunner has alleged the group’s campaign finance reports are masking the true contributors to the effort and is investigating.