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Gov. Strickland's Slots Plan for Ohio Racing Tracks

Democratic Governor Ted Strickland of Ohio and the members of the Republican-dominated state Senate reached an agreement on the 2-year state budget that would permit gaming at the seven horse racing tracks to help solve the $3.2 billion budget deficit-an idea that Gov. Strickland, an ordained Methodist minister, had previously criticized.

The state budget, which was sent to Gov. Strickland on July 13th, 2009 for his signature, was supposed to be finalized on June 30th, 2009. The two parties, operating on a 2nd interim state budget, took 2 extra weeks to review the details of Gov. Strickland's plan to permit slot machines and required the governor use of an executive order aside from the House and Senate legislative modification that avoided a public vote on the proposal.

Gov. Strickland said that additional tax increases must be avoided at all cost. Aside from major budget cut, he chose to push slot machines. The slot machine proposal estimates a $933 million improvement in revenue over the next two years from the 7 racing tracks. But the Governor's changed stance on gaming as well as his political change on behalf of the slots proposal may not win him favor among state voters.

Gov. Strickland previously opposed gaming proposals and criticized gaming as an option to solve the state's budget deficit. He is now being criticized by some of his fellow Methodist clergymen.

Gov. Strickland said that the choice was very difficult but he believes that it is necessary for the state to cope up with the financial crisis and Ohio residents seem to agree with the Governor. In a survey conducted by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, sixty-five percent of Ohioans support the Governor's plan.

It does not hurt that slots plan promises new employment opportunities along with increased earnings for a state with eleven percent unemployment rate. But 84% of the respondents say that the voters, not the state legislators should make the final decision since in the past 20 years, gaming proposals put to state voters have been dismissed on 4 different occasions.

Senator Bill Harris and his colleagues in the state Senate identified a number of problems with the Governor's gaming proposal including the reliability of the gaming revenue that Ohio will earn. The West Virginia lottery announced that revenue was down substantially at all 4 of the state's racing tracks. The lawsuits filed by anti-gambling groups, would delay the installation of the slot machines even further.

Under the original plan of Gov. Strickland, slot machines would be purchased or leased by Ohio-not the horse racing track owners. Pennsylvania racing track owners pay $15,000 per machine and Republicans want to know if the Governor included those figures in the $933 million he plans to make on the machines.

Senate President Harris and his fellow Republicans in the Senate originally backed placing the slots issue on a ballot. Strickland said that would take a lot of time and Ohio would miss out on the revenue it could start bringing revenue for the state within weeks of the installation of the proposed 15,250 slot machines. Harris countered by suggesting that the Governor should use his executive authority to implement his slots proposal.

But Gov. Strickland insisted that the proposal need legislative support. Gov. Strickland might have been compelled to take sole responsibility of the proposal on rock legislative foot but the Senate provides a bipartisan support.


Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Kori Woffendin