THE first thing to understand about state Issue 3 is the reality its backers don't want you to closely consider: This issue is not about college scholarships; it's about giving legalized gambling, and the serious social problems that come with it, a lucrative foothold in Ohio.
Once Ohioans comprehend what's actually at stake, we are confident that they will vote NO on Issue 3 in the Nov. 7 election.
The $13.5 million campaign to promote Issue 3 is being run by those who would benefit most from its passage: the owners of seven horse-racing tracks, including Toledo's Raceway Park, each of which would get the right to install up to 3,500 slot machines, plus a couple of wealthy developers in Cleveland, who would first get slot machines and, after four years, two full-blown gambling casinos.
These interests spin a utopian vision by claiming that revenue generated from gambling would fund guaranteed college scholarships for all Ohio students, without regard to need, through money credited to each person throughout their school years and even up to age 35.
This would provide an estimated $850 million - or maybe it's $1 billion; the backers have admitted to fudging the numbers. They cleverly have dubbed the proposition "Learn & Earn," but the TV ads never mention gambling.
A key drawback: Only 30 percent of the slot machine revenue would go to scholarships. Nearly double that amount - 55 percent - would line the pockets of the gambling operators. Why not call it "Feed the Greed" as opponents have suggested?
Moreover, the program wouldn't be fully funded for 12 years, somewhere around 2020. Until then, only the top 5 percent of high school seniors in the state would qualify for scholarships.
Another significant defect of the issue is that it is a constitutional amendment. We believe that major public programs and policies should be written into state law, not enshrined forever in an increasingly cluttered state constitution.
Ohio voters have said no to casino gambling before - twice in the 1990s - and we don't detect any ground swell in favor of it now.
In short, Issue 3 falls under the category of an old admonition that smart people heed: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. The prime concern of the issue's supporters is not to ensure that kids go to college but to make money - lots and lots of money.
As the state lottery has amply demonstrated over more than 30 years, legalizing gaming will not solve the perennial problem of education funding. Neither will it provide a permanent boost for development, even for a state in the economic doldrums.
In addition, Ohio cannot afford to experiment with a risky enterprise that could very well produce the kind of social problems - crime and gambling addiction - that mushroom easily but are expensive to remedy.
Ohioans should not take a chance on what is, as all gamblers understand, a losing proposition. The house always wins in the end. We urge a vote against Issue 3.
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