Cities could vote on casinos and thousands of electronic slot machines would be installed at Ohio racetracks, under a new legislative proposal that backers hope to put on the November ballot.
House Speaker Larry Householder said Wednesday he believes cities would view the casino idea as a positive trade-off given that rural areas benefit from racetracks through the sale of grain for horses. "So this is a way to allow the urban areas to also have a benefit," Householder said.
Democrats and Republicans resurrected the slot machine plan with a proposal to split the revenue between schools and college scholarships. Householder raised the possibility of casinos in cities Wednesday. Householder said the casino proposal was in an "infancy stage" only. "If you're going to have video lottery terminals at racetracks, probably the cities, the urban areas, would probably view the ability to put casinos in as something that's positive," said Householder, a Glenford Republican.
Ruma said racetracks are ready to launch their own petition drive to put the proposal on the November ballot if lawmakers fail in this latest effort. Gov. Bob Taft said Wednesday he's opposed to any form of casino gambling. He said "any kind of large-scale video slot machines at racetracks ... basically amounts to casino gambling, that the people of Ohio have twice defeated."
The slot proposal is the latest legislative attempt to follow the lead of other states and tap what one estimate says is hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue for Ohio. The new proposal would fund college scholarships and guarantee increases in future school funding budgets.
Republicans want to see about half the money go to scholarships and half to schools, including money for early childhood programs.
Placing 2,500 slots on Ohio's seven racetracks could raise between $410 million and $820 million a year for the state, according to an October analysis by the Legislative Service Commission, a bipartisan agency that studies the financial impact of bills.
Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken said the casino proposal was long overdue. He noted that an Indiana casino is packed with cars from his city. "I don't know whether Cincinnatians would decide they want a casino or not, but they should at least be given the right to make that decision," said Luken, a Democrat.