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Published: Wednesday, 11/20/2002

Gambling's false promise

Expanding state-sanctioned gambling in Ohio won't balance the state budget, even though that's how it's being portrayed in Columbus.

Once again, the false fiscal savior being offered by the Republican leadership, along with a few Democrats, is installation of video lottery terminals at seven horseracing tracks, including Raceway Park in Toledo.

That would be a bonanza for gambling interests, because the house always wins, but it wouldn't be good for the people of Ohio.

The terminals, which can be programmed to play blackjack, keno, and bingo or to perform like a slot machine, supposedly would raise $500 million a year.

But even assuming the revenue estimate would turn out to be accurate, which we doubt, the new gambling take would make up just one-fourth of the estimated $4 billion deficit expected in the next two-year budget, which the General Assembly must fashion by July 1.

What about the other $3 billion? No one's talking about that. We just get ultimatums from the “video slots” sponsor, Sen. Louis Blessing (R., Cincinnati). “If we don't do this,” he said, “we're going to either have some drastic cuts or the dirty word `tax increase.'”

The truth is, with a budget deficit as huge as $4 billion to fill, Ohioans are going to see big slashes in state spending and probably some sort of tax increase as well, regardless of the overall solution. Adding the uncertainty of gambling revenue to the mix will only compound the problem.

And there's also considerable doubt as to whether video lottery terminals are permissible without an amendment to the state constitution, which would have to be approved by the people.

Fortunately, Governor Taft recognizes reality and seems determined to call the legislature's bluff. He says he will veto the Blessing bill and would campaign against a video slots issue if one somehow made its way onto the statewide ballot.

Mr. Taft is in a strong position, just having been re-elected by a solid margin against an opponent who favored gambling as a revenue raiser.

If ramming through the Blessing bill in the lame-duck session is a parting shot at Mr. Taft from Senate President Richard Finan, it's a futile and gratuitous slap by the term-limited GOP leader. He won't be back next session to grapple with the budget deficit, but the rest of the General Assembly will.



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