No casino in the cards for Sandusky ... for now

SANDUSKY Casino-style gambling apparently will begin soon in Ohio, but many details about what's ahe
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

SANDUSKY

Casino-style gambling apparently will begin soon in Ohio, but many details about what's ahead are uncertain.

One thing seems a sure bet though: State Rep. Dennis Murray Jr.'s proposal to allow casinos in Sandusky apparently is dead, at least for now.

Murray had been circulating a proposal to call for a statewide vote to allow up to 15 gambling casinos in Ohio. It would have allowed Sandusky to consider opening a gambling casino.

"I think the proposal that I made is probably not going to advance very far right now," Murray said.

Because Gov. Ted Strickland is opposed to opening new casinos, "now is not the time for that proposal," he said.

"I want to continue the discussion about it. It's something that would be good for the area in the long term."

The new state budget adopted by the Ohio General Assembly authorized video lottery terminals, very similar to slot machines, to be legalized at Ohio's seven horse racing tracks.

But two uncertainties remain.

Foes of the video lottery terminals have vowed to go to court to shut down the program.

And backers of a scheme to legalize gambling casinos in four Ohio cities -- Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and Toledo -- continue to circulate petitions, hoping to get their proposal on the ballot this fall.

The Ohio Council of Churches has vowed to go to the Ohio Supreme Court to block the racetrack gambling machines. The group says the Ohio Constitution does not allow casino gambling unless it's approved by a vote of the people first.

The Rev. John Edgar said lawmakers and the governor have ignored repeated statewide votes that rejected casino gaming and should have raised taxes instead.

Allison Kolodziej, a spokeswoman for the governor, said the governor expects to withstand legal attacks and will ask the Ohio Supreme Court to consider the matter as quickly as possible.

"We knew that those in opposition to the VLTs would take legal action," she said. "We do not believe they have a credible argument, based on the language passed by the General Assembly."

The governor asked for lawmakers to authorize the lottery terminals to strengthen the government's legal standing, Kolodziej said. Senate leaders at first had asked Strickland to simply issue an executive order.

The governor announced his video lottery terminal proposal on June 19, less than two weeks before July 1, when a new state budget was supposed to go into effect. That left little time for discussing alternative ideas, such as Murray's.

Murray said he was philosophical about that.

Within the context of having to quickly find an agreement acceptable to the majority of the House and the majority of the Senate that the governor would not veto, "this was the best we could do," Murray said. "A budget in this context is very much a compromise."

The petition drive to put the four casinos on the ballot also appears to be running into difficulties. Groups opposing the petition allege that the signatures of dead people have been found on the documents and that convicted felons circulated petitions in violation of state law.

"My understanding (is) there's a lot of problems with the signatures," Murray said.

Even if the measure makes it onto the ballot, the legalization of video lottery terminals at the seven racetacks makes it less likely the measure would be approved.

Voters will likely decide "that's maybe enough for now," he said.