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Ohio rethinks casino revenues

Jan 20, 2009 5:05 PM
by Ray Poirier | With gaming expansion discussions going on in a number of states, the one that is surprising the industry is Ohio where just last November the electorate turned down a casino that was sponsored by Lakes Entertainment Inc. (LACO).

The primary reason for the quick turnaround, say lobbyists, is the state’s projected budget deficit of $7 billion.

Even Gov. Ted Strickland, an avowed opponent of casinos and even slot machines at racetracks, seems to have changed his tune.

And Penn National Gaming Inc. (PENN), which spent heavily to defeat the Lakes Entertainment proposal because of concern about competition for its adjourning state operations, has jumped in with a proposal to build casinos at Ohio’s seven racetracks and a stand-alone casino in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus.

According to a draft of the proposal obtained by the Columbus Dispatch newspaper, PENN would like lawmakers to sponsor a ballot measure with their idea for voters to consider in November.

A member of the state’s racing commission said he believed the Penn National proposal has been kicking around for months and had the complete support of the racing regulators.

"Would I like to see it?" said Commissioner Jerry Chabler, "Yes."

Reports out of Strickland’s office indicate that the governor has agreed that casino gambling will be part of the solution to the state’s budget shortfall, although he has indicated it will not be part of the budget he will propose next month.

Also, last week, the new speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives said he was willing to consider casino gambling as a way to increase state revenue.

Democrat Armond Budish said he thought casinos would be one option to help reduce the budget shortfall.