Students scrutinize casino issue

Theresa Edwards

Panelists from other schools join debate

Former congressman Dennis Eckart debates over a proposed constitutional amendment in the Governance Chambers on the second floor of the Student Center yesterday. If passed, the amendment will authorize the construction of four casinos throughout the state

Credit: DKS Editors

Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert’s absence didn’t stop student panelists from quizzing debaters about Issue 3, which would authorize the construction of four casinos in Ohio.

After coming down with the flu, Gilbert canceled his participation in the Issue 3 student forum and debate held yesterday afternoon in the Student Center Governance Chambers.

Issue 3 is a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would allow casinos to operate in Ohio. Voters decide next Tuesday whether casinos should be built in Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo and Cincinnati.

Former congressman Dennis Eckart stood in for Gilbert as a proponent of Issue 3.

Five student panelists from Kent State, Ohio State, Ashland University and Ohio University asked questions to Eckart and Rob Walgate, vice president of the Ohio Roundtable, a public policy organization that opposes Issue 3.

Student panelist Miles Denochek, hospitality management major from Ashland, asked how the amendment would affect small businesses.

“Very few people would get the payoff in the end,” said Walgate, who believes small businesses will be hurt.

Eckart, on the other hand, said small businesses would be positively affected.

“People create activity around activity,” he said.

Student panelist Allison Less, Kent State hospitality management major, asked if allowing casinos might create a monopoly.

Walgate referred to the language of the amendment and said the business plan is going directly to the constitution. Other casinos would not be allowed in Ohio.

But Eckart views it as a reverse monopoly as it stands today. He said people are taking their money out of state to gamble, and the other states love it.

Walgate doesn’t see how allowing casinos in the state would fix that problem. He said there’s no guarantee the money will stay in Ohio, and people can still go out of state to gamble.

“Ohioans have said ‘no’ four times for a reason,” he said. “They understand what this would do to the economy.”

The casino amendment has been on the ballot four different times since 1990.

Eckart said now is the time to seize the opportunity, citing major endorsements for the issue, including one from Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic. If Issue 3 passes, Akron would not be one of the cities to get a casino, but Eckart said he believes these proponents are asking two questions: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

Student panelist Randall Ziemnik, senior broadcast journalism major and TV2 news director, asked how Eckart thinks he’s going to change Ohioans’ minds about the amendment.

Eckart said the debate is no longer about whether to allow gambling in Ohio, but how and when it will be permitted. He said gambling already occurs at Las Vegas events and bingo nights, but the dynamics are different now. Instead of winning a teddy bear, participants have the opportunity to receive the full gambling experience.

Walgate said voters need to take responsibility and read the amendment language. He pointed out that in the amendment, it permits types of gambling allowed by neighboring states Michigan, West Virginia, Indiana and Pennsylvania as of Jan. 1, 2009.

Walgate said he disagrees with allowing other states to dictate our law and decide what games casinos can offer.

“They’re banking that you won’t read it,” Walgate said. “It’s buried in there.”

The debate was broadcast live on Kent State’s Web site and the Public Broadcasting Service Channel 45/49. Viewers could e-mail questions for student panelist Mark Ventura, hospitality management major from Ohio State, to ask the debaters.

Contact public affairs reporter Theresa Edwards at [email protected]