By David Zanotti, President/CEO The American Policy Roundtable
The three guys behind the latest MyOhioNow casino amendment have been around quite a while. They have tried to push a casino amendment up the hill before. They have been around the Legislative committee process when prior attempts were made to bring gambling into Ohio. They are nice guys, with a bad idea, who lacked the big bucks to make a big splash – until now.
The MyOhioNow campaign has already spent nearly $500,000 on TV commercials without telling anyone who is paying the bill. They have tried to spin the unveiling of their secret partner as an asset for Ohio. Little wonder since so many are questioning how long an out-of-state mystery man should be allowed to spend huge undisclosed sums to change the Ohio Constitution. In a statement released on April 28th, MyOhioNow promised to reveal the "nationally known casino visionary... pioneer and business leader...who also believes in Midwestern sensibilities."
Now we know their secret leader is Lyle. That’s how he is known in the television poker world where player lists are alphabetized by first names. Lyle Berman is a big-time gambler, a top-ten name in the world of people who play poker for a living. He plays the game to win – always.
As a kid, Lyle Berman got kicked out of school for gambling. He started playing poker at the age of ten. His family’s leather and fur business was sold as were his other business ventures so that today, at the age of 66 he is consumed in one endeavor, the art of gambling to win. He is very good at it. Last year he won over $1.8 million playing poker.
When he testified before the Texas Legislature in 2007, he challenged lawmakers to a poker match. He explained that if they played poker for "maybe four hours anybody can win." But he warned them that if they dared to play him eight hours per day for a month not one of them would be left standing, except Lyle.
Lyle has a broad gambling vision. He helped start a day care company catering to casinos. Today the venture hosts day care services at 20 casinos and extensive video arcades for children at six casinos. The operation boasts of driving “$2 million in additional gaming revenue” to a host casino facility every year. The kids can order pizza, play video games for a quarter or a dollar for prizes, do arts and crafts, even play in a mini-gym, while mom and dad gamble away junior’s future.
Lyle is a gambling character. Maybe you have seen him on TV. He plays his cards very close to the vest. Time magazine reported that a Berman casino project tanked in the mid-90’s costing investors millions. Lyle managed to sell his stock before the collapse. A legal settlement followed for a reported $9 million. Most of Berman’s casino projects have been the development of tribal casinos, a world that Time magazine acknowledges is shrouded in "secrecy." He once boasted to Time, "We’re the most successful company in Indian gaming."
Lyle's plan to change the constitution creates a single Ohio casino monopoly, at least for a while. The details of the plan are very sketchy. By far this is the worst casino amendment proposal Ohio has ever seen. No one knows who will own the casino buildings, or the license, or for how long. There are no restrictions against selling or leasing the whole operation to an Indian tribe or anyone else. And there is no protection for Ohio if Lyle chooses to fold his cards and go home. Lyle claims he plans to be around a while. On one casino poker site he stated his ambition is "to be shot by a jealous husband at the age of ninety-five." We just don't know if that ambition includes a Midwestern jealous husband.
Since Lyle's expertise is tribal gambling development, he may choose to bring out-of-state tribes to the Ohio table. Since he is paying to amend the constitution but doesn’t live in Ohio, the profits from Lyle’s casino will most likely follow him back to Minnesota, or Vegas or Colorado where he spends much of his time.
Lyle is touring Ohio for 48 hours, just enough time for everyone to be charmed by his Midwestern sensibilities. Then he will be back on the jet, off to produce more television poker tournaments, play more World Poker matches, doing what Lyle does best – winning while everyone else is losing. One thing is certain, given the huge investment he has already made in changing the state constitution, MyOhioNow is definitely Lyle's Ohio now.
Mr. Zanotti is President and CEO of the Ohio Roundtable and Co-chair of Vote No Casinos. The Roundtable is a non-profit, non-partisan public policy organization founded in 1980.