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Gaming interests joust over casinos in Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio (BP)–Ohioans are voting Tuesday on a casino gambling proposal opposed not only by traditional-values groups but also other gambling interests.

The ballot initiative is the fifth brought to voters in the past two decades — all four previous efforts met defeat despite heavy spending by supporters and favorable pre-election polling, according to news reports. This year’s proposal has been put forth by Dan Gilbert, majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and Penn National Gaming, a Pennsylvania-based gambling company. “Issue 3,” as the initiative is called, would allow construction of four $250 million casinos on plots of land optioned for purchase by Gilbert and the gaming company.

MTR Gaming Group, a West Virginia company that owns a racetrack in Columbus, Ohio, has 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 2008, Penn National Gaming reportedly spent $20 million to defeat a proposal to allow another gambling company to build a casino near Cincinnati, just 70 miles from Penn National’s new operation in Lawrenceburg, Ind.

Earlier battles against casino gambling were fought largely on moral grounds by public figures such as former Gov. George Voinovich, now a republican senator, according to The Wall Street Journal. The new pro-casino campaign focuses 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.

Voinovich called the current proposal “an absolute ripoff,” according to the Associated Press. One opposition group, TruthPAC, is promoting the testimony of a retired Michigan State Police officer who was involved in the 1981 arrest of Dan Gilbert on charges of running a bookmaking ring while a student at Michigan State University. Gilbert was fined, given probation, ordered to do community service and his record was expunged.

Bob Tenenbaum, a spokesman for the pro-casino campaign that spent $4 million gathering signatures for Issue 3, called the criticism of Gilbert “a continuing campaign of character assassination.”
Compiled by Baptist Press assistant editor Mark Kelly.

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