Ohio governor to authorize racetrack slots

Jul 11, 2009 7:41 PM
Staff & Wire Reports | Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland will authorize racetrack slots by executive order and lawmakers will provide him legal protection under a stalemate-ending budget compromise struck Friday.

The governor’s action is the cornerstone of a deal with Senate Republicans, who have in turn agreed to include language in the $54 billion, two-year state budget that clarifies the state gambling law allowing the lottery to include slots-like video lottery terminals.

Slot opponents were quick to criticize the action and vowed to continue their battle against slots.

David Zanotti, president of the anti-gambling Ohio Roundtable, said his group will follow through with threats to sue over the slots move.

"Last time I checked, he was elected governor, not king," Zanotti said. "It’ll be interesting if the governor has the courage to take this stand in court and explain to the people of Ohio how in 1973 their vote (in favor of the Ohio Lottery) authorized casino-style gambling in racetracks in this state. I’m anxious to hear his testimony in court."

House Speaker Armond Budish, a Beachwood Democrat, announced Friday afternoon that the compromise had been reached among the Democrat-led House, Republican-led Senate and Strickland.

The three had been locked in an impasse since the governor announced June 19 that he had changed his stance on lottery-run slots and would rely on them to help balance the budget.

Budish stressed that the deal will allow Ohio to balance its budget, which has suffered a series of revenue blows as it has moved through the Legislature this spring.

"The national economic downturn has impacted state budgets all across the country. Ohio faced similar challenges, but we were able to provide a balanced budget that reduces spending, shrinks the size of government, protects vital services for our most vulnerable citizens, and prioritizes job creation to help move Ohio forward," Budish said in a statement.

Strickland had insisted that some action by the Legislature is required in connection with the slots plan because Ohio law prohibits "schemes of chance," which include slots and the governor’s authority to expand the lottery with a non-ticketed game is legally tenuous.

He said in a statement Friday that the budget "rightly prioritizes education as the foundation of Ohio’s economic revival, reduces state government spending while minimizing the impact on critical health and safety services, and does not raise taxes on Ohioans or Ohio businesses struggling through this recession."

The governor’s executive order will contain his original slots proposal, which allows the Ohio Lottery to operate 2,500 VLTs at each of Ohio’s seven horse-racing tracks. It will not include a provision that would have allowed track owners to recoup their investments if voters pass a fall ballot issue legalizing casinos.