Ohio casino focus of contested Issue 6

Tony Lange

Opponents question amendment while proponents cite potential revenue

Thousands of new jobs, increased tourism and more than $200 million in tax revenue for Ohio’s local governments are the perks of an Ohio casino, according to Issue 6 advocates. But opponents of the My Ohio Now amendment say it’s deceitful.

Ohio voters will decide whether this amendment gets locked into their constitution Nov. 4.

“We’re creating one casino with a guaranteed plan,” Rick Lertzman, co-founder of My Ohio Now said. “We will provide 7,000 jobs at the casino, 5,000 jobs around it and bring all 88 of Ohio’s counties 30 percent of our revenue.”

Opponents of Issue 6 say the promises made by Lertzman and his partner Brad Pressman don’t match up with their proposal.

“This proposal is a scam for all Ohioans,” said Rob Walgate, a spokesman for the Ohio Roundtable’s Vote No Casinos Committee. Other opponents of Issue 6 include major out-of-state gaming companies, such as Penn National Gaming Inc., whose spokespeople say Ohioans are guaranteed nothing because of “loopholes.”

“It’s a bad economic policy and it will drain more money than it puts in,” Walgate said.

Issue 6 proposes to build a $600 million, 94-acre casino resort near Interstate 71 and state Route 73 in Chester Township near Wilmington, located between Cincinnati and Columbus in Clinton County.

The problem is Ohio doesn’t have the experience, so it’s hard to tell how a casino will impact the economy, economics professor David Vera said.

Any additional income will allow Ohio’s local governments flexibility with their budgets, Vera said.

“If a local economy isn’t picking up and if people are moving out, which is what we see, it’s hard to rely on local taxes,” Vera said.

One of the negative effects of a casino is problem gambling, which contributes to bad debt increasing the cost of credit. It’s hard to tell whether Issue 6 will affect this cost, Vera said.

“A casino will be an alternative to baseball games, movies and other forms of entertainment,” Vera said. “There are questions that need to be asked, like how many people will be drawn from out-of-state. Tourism plays an important role in a state’s economy. Look at the success stories, like in the case of Nevada, New York and California, which rely on tourism.”

Amendment authors, Lertzman and Pressman, residents of northeast Ohio, teamed up with Minnesota-based Lakes Entertainment Inc., which operates private and tribal casinos outside of Ohio, to support and fund the future of their planned resort, which they predict could gross an annual $800 million in revenue.

The ballot measure requires that 30 percent, or $240 million, be taxed and distributed to Ohio’s counties -10 percent to Clinton County and 90 percent divided among Ohio’s other 87 counties by population – as well as fund gambling treatment programs and government regulation, Lertzman said.

Portage County represents roughly 1.35 percent of Ohio’s population for those 87 counties. With the estimated revenue, Portage would receive between $2.5 and $3 million of annual resort profit.

The Nov. 4 ballot measure also says the amendment would “reduce the tax paid by the casino authorized by this amendment to the lesser of the rate taxed on another casino or 25 percent in the event another casino is permitted in Ohio in the future.”

According to Penn National’s $40 million campaign for No on Issue 6 Committee, “up to 30 percent” could mean anything and if a future Indian casino were built in Ohio, it would operate tax free, thus allowing Clinton County’s resort to match a zero percent tax on revenue, hence the “lesser of the rate.”

“We don’t find that relevant,” Pressman told the Cleveland Plain Dealer Oct. 6. “The Casino would not pay less than 25 percent tax.”

Penn National, which owns Argosy Casino on the Ohio-Kentucky border, approximately 75 miles from Issue 6’s proposed resort, is using profits from Argosy’s Ohio gamblers to fund its opposing campaign because the casion fears the loss of Ohio customers, Lertzman said.

“Penn National is the worst representation of a corporation,” Lertzman said. “This company is buying the election to ensure Ohio gets no jobs and no revenue. Thirty-eight states now have casinos. Ohio is surrounded by four of them. Ohioans and their money are traveling elsewhere. We have all the ill effects and not the benefits.”

“Problem gambling is already here in Ohio,” Lertzman said. “The lottery, horse racing, bingo, online poker.”

Contact news correspondent Tony Lange at [email protected].