‘Learn and Earn’ has benefits, drawbacks

Seth Roy

Amendment would pay for education with slot machine income

Its supporters say it is a way to provide a free, or greatly reduced, college education for every child in Ohio.

Its detractors say it is just a way for a few racetrack owners to pocket hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Vote Yes on Issue 3 Committee is seeking an Ohio state constitutional amendment that would allow gambling, with the purpose of providing grants and scholarships for children to attend college.

Issue 3, also known as Ohio Learn and Earn, seeks to install up to 31,500 electronic slot machines in seven Ohio racetracks, as well as Cleveland’s Tower City and the Nautica Entertainment Complex.

Rob Walgate, outreach director for the American Policies Roundtable, which opposes the amendment, said it would create an unfair monopoly for the nine casino owners involved.

“These nine guys show up to help when they are going to profit,” he said.

Michael Caputo, spokesman for the Vote Yes committee, said the amendment would not set up a monopoly because the nine casino operators would compete with each other. He also said studies have shown that nine casinos in the state would maximize returns for the scholarship program.

“More than nine would likely diminish returns,” Caputo said.

Caputo said approximately $852 million will go toward the scholarship and grant programs every year, based on a study by Strategic Partner Management Consulting in Cleveland. That projected amount is 30 percent of the gross slot machine revenue.

Fund breakdown, if the amendment is passed:

• 55 percent will go back to the casinos

• 30 percent will go toward scholarships

• 8 percent will go to county and municipal governments for an economic development fund

• 6 percent will go to the purse fund for the race tracks

• 1 percent will go toward gambling addiction services

Starting in 2009, grants would be offered to the top 5 percent in every class. But Caputo said the program isn’t only for those students.

“This is not just for the top 5 percent,” he said, “It’s for everybody. The credits begin accruing on day one. After 12 years, the 5 percent (grants) end, and the credits take over.”

Throughout their schooling, students will build up credits based on performance in school, extracurricular activities and community outreach. By 2021, every student will be on equal footing in terms of credit-building opportunities, and the top 5 percent grants will fade away.

According to the Vote Yes Committee’s Fact Book, Portage County will receive more than $12.5 million in total benefits every year because of the amendment. That figure counts grants and scholarships, local economic funds and gambling addiction services.

Other benefits of the amendment include the creation of more than 56,000 new, permanent jobs with benefits, as well as about 31,000 construction jobs, he said. These jobs will create about $430 million in taxable income.

Colleges and universities, however, have been slow to endorse either side of the issue, Walgate said.

“There’s a reason no institution (of higher learning) has endorsed this,” Walgate said. “It’s simple. It’s (the amendment) just terrible.”

Kent State has yet to voice its opinion on the issue.

“The university hasn’t taken any formal position on it,” said David Creamer, senior vice president of administration.

Creamer said the amendment could offer benefits to students, but it will take a while for the benefits to be effective.

He also said if the amendment had been proposed in a different way, it would seem more credible.

“It probably would’ve been better if the legislators would’ve taken the lead,” instead of racetrack and casino owners, Creamer said.

Contact public affairs reporter Seth Roy at [email protected].