Give the Constitution a Break – Vote No on 2 April 15 2010
By David Zanotti, President/CEO
It took casino consultants 22 years of defeats and over $100 million in wasted campaign spending to figure out that the way to win in Ohio was to cut the number of players at the ballot box. Casino gambling passed in Ohio because the amendment making it legal was placed on the 2009 off-election year ballot where voter turnout was fractional. Now the casino owners, with the willing help of the General Assembly, are placing a constitutional amendment on the May 2010 primary election ballot where turnout will be even smaller.
The casino “big-dogs” got themselves in a jam in Central Ohio. The people there don’t want a casino. A handful of well-connected people there don’t want the casino near their business development either. So, Penn National agreed to move the casino to “the other side of town” and a much larger facility. Only problem is – the constitutional amendment Penn National wrote in 2009 prohibits the move. So in 2010, Penn National is using a primary election vote to erase their mess up and move their bigger casino into somebody else’s neighborhood.
The casino industry, with the willing help of the General Assembly, has painted Ohio into a corner. The state constitution and the ballot box are now part of Penn National’s business plan. Even sadder, Penn has figured out that to expand their empire, all they have to do is place an amendment in a primary election where the majority of Ohio voters do not vote because they have no reason to vote.
Primary elections determine candidates for Ohio’s two anemic “major” political parties. The majority of Ohio voters are not Democrats or Republicans, but registered as “non-aligned” or independent voters. They can vote for issues on a primary election day, but if they don’t know an issue is on the ballot there is no reason for them to go to the polls. This is why you haven’t heard a word about Ohio Issue 2 this spring – even though early voting on the measure has already begun. The casino industry is happy to leave the majority of Ohio’s independent voters out of the decision making process – even on their constitution.
What makes this really sad is we are not talking about a vote to change the zoning on the local corner property. This is the constitution being used like a chew toy by the biggest dog at the Statehouse. This document was supposed to be the covenant of “we the people” creating the highest law in the state. Now it is the convenient toy of a monopoly industry that always sets the odds in their favor.
The casino owners have painted Ohio into a dangerous corner. The General Assembly should forward a simple proposal to the voters to fix this mess. Any amendments to the state constitution should only appear on the November ballot of major election (even-numbered) years. This is the best way to insure true majorities of Ohioans are included in the debate over constitutional changes. If this change does not happen quickly the casino industry will keep using the Ohio Constitution like an erasable white board. They will be back on the ballot over and over again to change the rules on casino gambling to their liking.
Legalizing casinos in Ohio will eventually prove to be a disappointment. Casinos never match their economic promise and leave a host of ruined lives in their wake. Letting the casino industry use the constitutional amendment process on the cheap is an embarrassing insult to the rule of law. A NO vote on Issue 2 on the May Primary will send a message to the Ohio General Assembly to re-think their role as an easy facilitator to the casino owners. We encourage all voters, especially those independents not aligned with either Party, to go to the polls on May 4th and vote NO on Issue 2.
David Zanotti is CEO of the American Policy Roundtable and the Ohio Roundtable a non-profit, independent network of state-based public policy organizations founded in 1980.