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Casino gambling plan passes in Ohio, 53-47

COLUMBUS (BP)–By a 53-47 margin, voters in Ohio approved a ballot initiative Nov. 3 to allow casino gambling in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo.

“Let’s start lighting it up like Las Vegas,” Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and a main investor in the casino plan, said to reporters after the statewide vote.

Passage of Issue 3 marked the fifth time in the past two decades a casino initiative had been brought to voters. All four previous efforts met defeat despite heavy spending by supporters and favorable pre-election polling, according to news reports. Gilbert and Penn National Gaming, a Pennsylvania-based gambling company, spent nearly $35 million to persuade Ohio voters to write their proposal into the state constitution.

Issue 3 was opposed not only by traditional-values groups but also other gambling interests. MTR Gaming Group, a West Virginia company that owns a racetrack in Columbus, had spent $6 million opposing the casino initiative. MTR hopes to win voter approval in 2010 for a plan that would allow slot machines at racetracks under the auspices of the state lottery.

In all, more than $40.6 million was spent in the Ohio battle over casino gambling — exceeding the $40.1 million Barack Obama and John McCain spent trying to win votes there in 2008.

The pro-casino campaign had focused on the state’s economic difficulties, promising to create new jobs and calling for each casino to pay a $50 million license fee and a 33 percent tax on gross revenue to be divided among local governments.

Anti-gambling activist David Zanotti of the Ohio Policy Roundtable said the state’s 10 percent unemployment rate made voters more receptive to an onslaught of television advertising promising that the new casinos would create 34,000 jobs.

“It’s pretty obvious that the Ohio electorate bought into the whole culture of despair that’s going on with the economy,” Zanotti told the Associated Press.

Sandy Theis, spokeswoman for TruthPAC, an activist group that opposed the measure, said Nov. 3 was a sad day for Ohio.

“Many Issue 3 supporters genuinely believe it will help Ohio’s economic recovery. I hope they are right. I fear they are wrong,” Theis said, according to the AP. “Issue 3 is riddled with loopholes that will shortchange Ohio, muzzle the casino watchdogs and exempt cash wagers from the taxes casinos pay.”

State Rep. Lou Blessing, a Republican who opposed Issue 3, announced plans for a ballot initiative in the spring that would amend the plan to collect more taxes from the casinos and put the licenses up for bid.
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.

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