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TMCNet:  Casino backers, foes square off: Ohio voters are the big stakes in gamble on Nov. 3 ballot [The Blade, Toledo, Ohio]

[August 07, 2009]

Casino backers, foes square off: Ohio voters are the big stakes in gamble on Nov. 3 ballot [The Blade, Toledo, Ohio]

(Blade (Toledo, OH) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 7--COLUMBUS -- Now that the court fight is history, the battle over votes on casino gambling in Ohio is under way.

Opponents of a proposed constitutional amendment authorizing four Las Vegas-style casinos on specific sites in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati have formed TruthPAC, a political action committee expected to raise and spend millions to counter the economic development claims of the ballot issue's backers.

The casino effort is financed by Penn National Gaming Inc., owner of Toledo's Raceway Park, and Dan Gilbert, majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Penn's Toledo casino is proposed for former industrial land on the riverfront abutting Rossford near I-75.

TruthPAC has hired Scott Kozar, a Huron, Ohio, native now with a Washington-based public relations firm, to manage the campaign.

"Read the fine print," he said. "You'll see that more than half of those [34,000 jobs projected to be created] are temporary construction jobs. Just 16,000 permanent jobs would be created, assuming all four casinos are built." That's a big assumption, TruthPAC contends. The text of the proposed amendment headed for the Nov. 3 ballot will ask voters to "authorize" four casinos on specific parcels but does not set a deadline for the minimum $250 million investment for each.

"The one site that makes us suspicious is Toledo," committee spokesman Sandy Theis said. "Penn controls that site and owns the racetrack. Penn recently bid on a Detroit casino. Why would you put your Detroit property and racetrack in jeopardy by adding another business that will directly compete with them?" Raceway Park is in line to install up to 2,500 slot machines under a plan aggressively pushed by Gov. Ted Strickland to raise an estimated $933 million over two years as an alternative to deeper spending cuts. That plan is currently under court challenge.

Charlie Luken, former Cincinnati mayor and spokesman for the Ohio Jobs and Growth Committee promoting the ballot issue, said the committee stands by the economic development estimates that came from a University of Cincinnati study.

"We are going to tell the truth about TruthPAC," he said. "The truth is they are motivated to keep Ohio money in West Virginia or to protect their slots at racetracks. Their motivation is not in the best interests of Ohio jobs and families." Mr. Luken said he believes Penn National likely would pursue slots at Raceway Park in addition to the casino if voters approve Issue 3 and the slots plan survives court challenge.

"They will certainly build a casino," he said. "According to our lawyers, they are bound to do that. It would obviously be crazy for them not to. Toledo would be better off with a casino and the tax revenue that generates for that city." Ms. Theis said she expects the TruthPAC coalition to include "strange bedfellows," including MTR Gaming Group, owner of Columbus area racetrack Scioto Downs and Mountaineer Casino just over the border in West Virginia. The Ohio Supreme Court last week rejected Scioto Downs' lawsuit seeking to prevent the casino question from reaching the Nov. 3 ballot.

The committee hopes Mr. Strickland will join its fight. Long an opponent of slot machines and casinos as a means of funding government, Mr. Strickland's sudden reversal of position on slots has drawn criticism from gambling opponents and even fellow Methodist ministers. Ms. Theis said the committee does not fear the governor has lost credibility on the issue.

"These are two different issues," she said. "I think a lot of people are more comfortable with [video lottery terminals] at the racetracks. Gambling takes place there already. They help the horse-racing industry, which is an important fabric of Ohio. Full-blown casinos take it to a new level." Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

To see more of The Blade, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.toledoblade.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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