|By Jim Provance, The Blade, Toledo,
OhioMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jul. 22, 2009--COLUMBUS -- Barring court intervention, voters will weigh in on Nov. 3 for the third time in four years on the question of whether Las Vegas-style casinos should be opened in Ohio.
Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner yesterday certified a ballot issue that would, if approved by voters, write a minimum $250 million casino investment on Toledo's riverfront into the Ohio Constitution, along with similar projects at specific sites in Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.
But Ms. Brunner continues to investigate whether some of the individuals paid to circulate petitions on behalf of the Ohio Jobs and Growth Committee broke state election law. And officials at Scioto Downs, a Columbus-area racetrack, filed a challenge with the Ohio Supreme Court seeking to invalidate some of the petitions she certified yesterday.
The court challenge alleges paid petition circulators provided false addresses, did not circulate the petitions bearing their names, or were convicted felons barred under Ohio law from being petition circulators.
Ms. Brunner's investigation could lead to criminal prosecutions of circulators but would not undo the certification of the ballot issue. That, she said, is the prerogative of the state Supreme Court under a constitutional in November.
"While I'm obligated to fulfill my duties under the constitution and certify this issue, I believe it's important to investigate these allegations to ensure integrity of this and future ballot initiative elections," Ms. Brunner said. "This is the first time the new constitutional structure has been used."
Bob Tenenbaum, spokesman for the casino committee, said the committee will cooperate.
"If there are questions about petition circulators acting improperly, then we think they ought to be prosecuted," he said.
The casino committee filed petitions containing more than 902,000 signatures of registered voters, nearly half of which were deemed invalid by county boards of elections.
Based on those numbers, Ms. Brunner certified that 452,956 signatures were valid, surpassing the minimum threshold of 402,275, or 10 percent of those who voted in the 2006 gubernatorial election.
In addition, the county review determined the committee had surpassed a minimum 5 percent threshold in 73 of Ohio's 88 counties, including every county in northwest Ohio except Hancock. The petition effort needed at least 44 counties.
The primary backers of the latest casino plan -- Penn National Gaming Inc., owner of Toledo's Raceway Park, and Dan Gilbert, majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers -- are gambling that the right proposal could convince voters to change the Ohio Constitution to allow 24-hour casinos with up to 5,000 slot machines each and table games such as poker, blackjack, and roulette.
Toledo's riverfront casino would be near I-75 on 37 acres of reclaimed Libbey-Owens-Ford industrial land next to Pilkington North America's Rossford glass plant.
Each casino would pay a one-time $50 million licensing fee to the state as well as a tax of 33 percent on the gambling revenue generated, the bulk of which would be distributed among counties.
Last year, voters rejected a single proposed $600 million casino resort in southwestern Ohio by a margin of 62 percent to 38 percent. Two years earlier they rejected slot machines at the state's seven horse-racing tracks and at two stand-alone Cleveland sites by a tighter margin of 57 percent to 43 percent.
But much has changed since the last vote. The recent decision of Gov. Ted Strickland and lawmakers to introduce up to 2,500 slot machines at each of the state's seven horse-racing tracks without a vote of the people may have created a different atmosphere in which the Nov. 3 vote will take place. That decision is also under court challenge.
The governor hopes that revenue from the slots will help him balance the state's budget, which has been hit with falling tax revenue.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.
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Copyright (c) 2009, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
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