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PUSH STATE BALLOT ON VIDEO SLOTS
By Lee Leonard
Dispatch Statehouse Reporter
From the Columbus Dispatch, Wednesday, May 9, 2001
Annoyed with opponents of expanded gambling in Ohio, state Sen. Louis Blessing started the ball rolling yesterday toward a November referendum on slot machines at racetracks.
Blessing introduced Senate Joint Resolution 1, requiring the Ohio Lottery Commission to oversee the "video lottery terminals'' at the state's seven racetracks. If passed by a three-fifths vote of the Senate and House, the proposal would go on the Nov. 6 ballot for a statewide vote. All profits would go to Ohio primary and secondary schools.
Giving additional weight to the resolution was Blessing's fellow Cincinnati Republican, Senate President Richard H. Finan, who said he hopes lawmakers act on the proposal before adjourning for the summer.
It must be passed by early August to make the ballot. In the Senate, 20 votes among the 33 members would be required for passage. Sixty of the 99 House members also would have to support the proposal.
The move came just a day after a Columbus news conference by religious leaders opposed to both the racetrack slots and a proposed expansion of the Ohio Lottery to multi- state games.
Blessing said he was tired of gambling opponents trashing the slot machines, which he maintains are actually a game of chance, or lottery, that is legal under current law.
"The only reason we don't have them is because we've got a governor who doesn't want to implement them,'' he said.
Lawmakers turned their backs on a proposal to allow the gambling devices in the upcoming state budget as a revenue-raiser. Estimates ranged from $200 million to $900 million in revenue for the state in two years. Gov. Bob Taft said he would veto such a proposal. However, he does not have the power to veto a joint resolution.
Blessing said the video slots are nothing more than electronic lotteries because the Ohio Supreme Court has held that a lottery is "a game or contest involving a chance or prize.''
"The Lottery Commission can place these machines in every city, village and township in Ohio under their current authority,'' the senator said.
That assertion was met with derision from David Zanotti, president of the Ohio Roundtable and Freedom Forum headquartered in Solon.
"It's one thing to have a dumb idea,'' Zanotti said. "It's another to be blatantly insulting right out of the chute. He's telling us that anything he thinks is legal, is legal. Think of all the money they wasted trying to get the voters to approve casinos in Ohio. If that's true, that they're legal because they're lotteries, the next thing we'll have is the Ohio Lottery Commission opening brothels and calling them lotteries.''
Zanotti's group spearheaded opposition to riverboat casino proposals that were soundly defeated at the ballot in 1990 and 1996.
"The people have clearly decided on this,'' he said.
He said he doubts the video lottery terminal issue will reach the ballot, but if it does, the Ohio Roundtable and Freedom Forum will wage a vigorous campaign against it.
"And we have a commitment from the governor that he will join us,'' Zanotti said.
Taft said again yesterday he would campaign against any ballot issue allowing the slot machines at racetracks.
Zanotti said his organization plans to contact lawmakers urging them to vote no. It will also use direct mail, radio ads and possibly billboards to discourage the idea, he said.
Finan said he thinks the video lottery terminals "are probably legal right now.'' He said they haven't been installed because "everybody's a little skittery'' over a lawsuit or the possibility of a statewide repeal.
"The logical, sensible thing is to put it on the ballot and see what they (the people) say,'' Finan said.
House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, proposed using the gambling devices to balance the budget, but his idea was shot down by the governor. He has said his own GOP caucus would more likely approve the slot machines than allow Ohio to participate in a multistate lottery.