Two state representatives offer alternate plans for casino control if Issue 3 passes

Tom Gallick

Amendments would be on the May ballot

Even if Issue 3 passes on Nov. 3, the battle for who ultimately controls gambling in the state of Ohio may be far from over.

Two alternative amendments crafted by members of the Ohio House of Representatives were proposed in October and will continue to be debated after Election Day.

Rep. Dennis Murray, an opponent of Issue 3, proposed House Joint Resolution 4 on Oct. 13, which would amend the Ohio State Constitution to allow up to 15 casinos in Ohio. Murray (D-Sandusky) said the problems he has with Issue 3 include the tax rate, the lack of legislative oversight and the predetermined locations of the future casinos.

“I live in Sandusky, and the obvious question for the last 20 years is, ‘Why doesn’t our area have an opportunity (to build casinos) along with the other areas in the state?'” Murray said. “Why is the game always rigged from the outset as to where the casino is going to be?”

Murray, who said he was “relatively neutral” on whether gambling should be legalized in Ohio, said he decided it was time to “put a smart resolution in front of the public” and let them decide.

Murray’s resolution includes authorization to allow up to six casinos in a county with a maximum of 15 for the entire state, a 50 percent tax rate on gross revenues for casinos and the requirement that the residents of the city or county would have to vote in favor of a casino before it could be built.

If Issue 3 passes, it would amend the state constitution to allow only one casino to be built in a “specifically designated location within each of the cities of Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo.” Issue 3 would also enact a 33 percent tax on gross revenues of casinos.

Rep. Tyrone K. Yates proposed a less detailed amendment to the state constitution regarding casino gambling in the run up to the vote on Issue 3. Yates (D-Cincinnati) introduced House Joint Resolution 5, a proposed amendment that would “allow the General Assembly to provide for and regulate the operation of certain lotteries and other forms of gambling” on Oct. 22.

Yates’ amendment would prevent prospective casino operators or gambling interests from writing casino regulations themselves and putting them on the ballot, giving the responsibility to the state legislature.

Murray said Yates’ resolution was similar to his, in that each reflected the idea that elected representatives would be in the best position to set guidelines for legalized gambling in Ohio. Calls to Yates’ office were not returned.

Bob Tenenbaum, spokesperson for the pro-Issue 3 Ohio Jobs and Growth Committee, said he thought the representatives who proposed these resolutions might be trying to confuse the public or otherwise hurt Issue 3’s chances.

“The timing is suspicious,” Tenenbaum said. “The legislature has had decades to deal with this and hasn’t.”

Murray said the public needed to examine the Ohio Jobs and Growth Committee’s expenditures to promote Issue 3, $31.8 million between July 1 and Oct. 14 according to campaign finance reports, compared to $5.4 million spent by the main opposition group, TruthPAC.

“I say it’s highly suspicious why they have to spend $30 million to buy a constitutional amendment,” Murray said. “That’s not just suspicious, that’s offensive. It’s offensive that we’ve come to a point where rich casino owners are in reach of buying a constitutional amendment.”

Penn National Gaming along with Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert have supplied almost all of the funding in support of Issue 3, while the majority of the funding for TruthPAC has come from MTR Gaming and its chairman Jeff Jacobs, who operate the Mountaineer Casino in West Virginia.

TruthPAC spokesperson Sandy Theis said her group would prefer a plan written by the state assembly as opposed to the plan laid out in Issue 3.

“We want to see three things: a fair tax rate, competitively bid licensing and a strong oversight commission,” Theis said. “Issue 3 would give us the weakest casino oversight in America.”

Murray said he would continue to fight for his alternative amendment, even if Issue 3 passes and becomes part of the state constitution. He said he will “propose it as an amendment to the amendment” in order to give all counties in Ohio a chance at building casinos.

Both Murray and Yates’ resolutions would require 60 of 99 votes in the Ohio House of Representatives and 20 of 33 votes in the Ohio Senate to be put on the May 4, 2010 ballot.

Contact public affairs reporter Tom Gallick at [email protected].