Issue 3 stirs debate with Ohio voters

Amendment would allow four casinos

The option of building casinos in Ohio has appeared on the ballot four times in the past 20 years and has been voted down every time. But at a time when the economy is struggling, people are searching for new ways to attract money and new jobs to the state.

Enter Issue 3. Also known as the Four Casinos Initiative, Issue 3 will appear on the ballot Tuesday in Ohio as a constitutional amendment. If approved by voters, the issue will allow a casino to be built in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo. It would create new jobs and new revenue for communities.

A Sept. 26 Ohio Newspaper Poll found that 59 percent of Ohio’s registered voters support Issue 3. Thirty-eight percent oppose it and 3 percent are undecided.

The major argument for passing Issue 3 is that it would stimulate the economy. Those opposed argue the revenue generated will only help casino owners and create new jobs for those already employed.

The supporters

Those in favor of passing Issue 3 are expecting it to create 34,000 new jobs, $1 billion in private investment, $200 million in licensing fees and an estimated $651 million annually in revenue for Ohio counties, cities, school districts and state programs, according to the Yes on Issue 3 Web site.

A number of organizations supporting Issue 3 are labor unions, including the Ohio AFL-CIO.

“We felt pretty comfortable early on that the numbers (revenues, new jobs) being estimated by the University of Cincinnati were real and they would be real,” said Tim Burga, Ohio AFL-CIO chief of staff.

Burga said the estimated 15,000 labor positions created by the new casinos – both in the clearing of the land and the building – would include benefits for the workers. He said the prospective casino owners made commitments that the labor used would be union labor.

He called the assertions made by the dissenting side that the casinos would actually cause people to lose jobs “poppycock.” The new additions to the four cities won’t take away from any preexisting businesses, he said.

Stanley Miller, executive director of the Cleveland branch of the NAACP, said the ballot language states the casinos’ revenue will help support local communities and schools in the area. He said this, along with the opportunity for minority companies and employees to gain meaningful work, was the reason the organization was supporting Issue 3.

He said Dan Gilbert, partial owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and prospective owner of the Cleveland casino, signed an agreement saying 90 percent of the jobs would go to residents in the area surrounding the casinos.

Burga said he disagrees with the argument that Ohio can’t be trusted with gambling in its neighborhoods or the notion that it’ll be negative for the community and the state.

“It’s time Ohio look at casino gambling as a source of revenue and caught up with our neighboring states,” Burga said.

Although the issue hasn’t passed in Ohio previously, Miller said its possible success this year has much to do with the economic climate – but not entirely.

“I don’t think there’s a cookie cutter reason why it hasn’t passed before,” Miller said.

The opposition

Jacob Evans, government affairs director at the Ohio Licensed Beverage Association, is weary of the guarantees of Issue 3.

“If the issue is passed and the casinos are built, the money will be spent in the casinos rather than local businesses in the area,” Evans said.

The goal of casinos is to bring people in and give them a variety of entertainment options, so they do not want to leave. This includes restaurants, shows and anything that will persuade people to spend more time and money in the casino, Evans said.

If passed, the issue could also ban other forms of casino gambling, including “casino nights” offered by churches, fraternal organizations or other charities, said Robert Walgate, vice president of the Ohio Roundtable, a public policy organization.

The issue creates a “constitutional monopoly” rather than a legal one in which there is no way to tweak or improve the plan without making changes to the amendment, Evans said.

The supposed 34,000 jobs created by Issue 3 are not all permanent, he said. An estimated 19,000 jobs will be generated on construction of the casinos alone; meaning that after construction is complete, these workers will once again be unemployed.

People who are already employed may find interest in what casinos have to offer and elect to get a job at the casino, so jobs won’t necessarily be created but just jumbled around, Evans said.

Along with construction, Issue 3 does not address directly the costs that may be implemented to build bridges, roads and make necessary infrastructure improvements to the areas where the casinos will be built. These costs may be subject to a hidden tax, according to the No on Issue 3 Web site.

The levy tax of 33 percent on gross casino revenue is one of the lowest percentages in any state. Pennsylvania has a tax of 55 percent. The 67 percent of the leftover revenue for Ohio casinos would go straight into the pockets of the casino operators, Walgate said.

Reports made by Hiram College have shown that casinos have negative effects on cities and the people that live in them.

“Casinos are on a decline, and they don’t create a steady form of economic development. Approving a constitutional amendment, that is more like a business plan for casinos, will be bad for Ohio,” Walgate said.

Contact public affairs reporters Jeremy Hebebrand at [email protected] and Sarah Steimer at [email protected].