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Casino issue faces Ohio voters

Area residents voice views on what some call a Buckeye State bonanza

October 31, 2009
By Evan Bevins, ebevins@mariettatimes.com

As the day approaches to once again tally the votes on a constitutional amendment that would expand gambling in the Buckeye State, the measure has support across the state, and in southeastern Ohio.

Issue 3 would enable Penn National Gaming Inc. and a coalition headed by Cleveland Cavaliers majority owner Dan Gilbert to construct casinos in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo. A poll commissioned by the state's eight largest newspapers and released last week showed 57 percent of residents were in favor of the amendment while 39 percent were opposed.

However, this will be the fifth gambling measure on the statewide ballot since 1990. All four of the previous ones failed, even when polls showed they had strong support.

Warren Township resident David Jones said he hasn't made up his mind just yet, but he's leaning toward voting for Issue 3.

"I enjoy going to casinos and stuff, and I don't like seeing Ohio money going to West Virginia, Michigan and other states," said Jones, 55.

Supporters of Issue 3 say allowing casinos in Ohio will retain $1 billion in revenue that residents spend on gambling in other states. Opponents, including U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, have questioned those and other figures.

Fact Box

On the Net

www.truthpac.org

www.yesonissue3.com

Before Jones commits to voting for the issue, he said he wants to study it closely, making sure it will go to benefit the people of Ohio, especially school systems.

"If it's going to help them out without raising my property taxes... I'm for it," he said.

Issue 3's backers say the casinos will generate $651 million a year in tax revenue. The majority of that will be divided among the state's 88 counties and its school districts.

Although the Ohio Jobs and Growth Committee pushing the issue says Noble County would be in line for more than $650,000 of that money, Caldwell resident Frank Smith, 73, isn't buying it.

"There (doesn't) seem to be anything for southeastern Ohio in it," said Smith, who already cast an early ballot against the issue. "I'll have to see it (the money) in my hand to believe it."

Independence Township resident Jason Godfrey, 35, wasn't familiar with the amendment, but after hearing about it, he liked the idea.

"I would vote for it, especially if it's going to help schools out," he said.

The district in which Godfrey lives, Frontier Local, would receive an estimated $109,609, according to www.yesonissue3.com . That's part of about $1.22 million Washington County school districts would receive, according to projections on the Web site, along with nearly $1.8 million for the county.

But critics of the issue say the state would not reap nearly as much money as it should or could from the plan. Voinovich recently said the tax rate is much lower than in other states with full casinos and criticized the $50 million licensing fee, saying casino operators in other states have paid as much as 10 times that amount.

Voinovich, who opposes any expansion of gambling, said putting the licenses out for bid would bring in more money. He also opposes amending the constitution to essentially give two entities a monopoly.

A jobs and growth committee spokesman said Ohio's tax rate would be the fourth highest among states allowing full casinos. He said skipping the bidding process means work on the casinos can begin immediately and noted that a minimum $250 million investment would be required for each facility.

Reno resident Richard Brown has voted against the state's last four gambling issues and he's planning to vote against this one, too.

"I hope they bury it for good this time," he said. "I don't want to have to come back and haunt the people doing it."

Brown said gambling is addictive.

"It's against my principles to gamble and have people gambling and losing the money they ought to be spending on their families," he said.

Supporters of the issue note it will provide $13 million a year to the state to study and combat gambling addiction, and additional funding for law enforcement training.

Some say the social costs of gambling, such as rising crime and treatment of addiction, are just too high. Others say they don't expect crime to be any worse than it is now if casinos are allowed.

Vincent resident Mary Ventura, 68, said she believes the objections to the measure are coming mainly from "Bible thumpers."

"I have to say that all of the ads that are against it seem to be phonied up as a cover-up for people who just don't want sin in the state," Ventura said.

While she's not sure either side of the issue knows exactly what the results of allowing casinos will be, Ventura said she's voting for the measure because it will bring much-needed tax revenue to the state.

Beverly resident Doris Boso, 67, said she plans to vote for the issue, but she doesn't;t want to see a system like West Virginia has, with video lottery parlors all over the state.

"As long as they put those (casinos) in the big cities and leave us alone out here, I'm OK with that," she said.

Marietta resident James Starner has already voted against the issue. The 84-year-old said he just doesn't think the plan is good for Ohio.

"They're (casinos) not too successful in other states, so I don't think they'll be good in Ohio," he said.

 
 
 

 

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