THE last thing the state of Ohio should be doing in the current recession - or any other time - is encouraging people to gamble away their shrinking resources. Yet currently three plans are being floated that are designed to separate Ohio residents from their rent money by expanding legal gambling, and two of them wouldn't even require statewide voter approval.
One proposal calls for a vote in November on a constitutional amendment to give Penn National Gaming, owner of Toledo's Raceway Park, and Dan Gilbert, majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, a monopoly on future casinos in four Ohio cities, including Toledo.
The other two plans are for slot machines only. The Ohio Racing Commission wants to put 2,000 slots at each of the state's seven horse racing venues, including Raceway. The Northern Ohio Hospitality and Entertainment Commission, a coalition of bars, private clubs, and slot machine makers, would meet that 14,000 slot bet and raise it to 83,000 by placing the one-armed bandits in bars, restaurants, microbreweries, bingo halls, and fraternal and veterans clubs.
Backers of both schemes say they can avoid seeking voter approval by making the slots an extension of the Ohio Lottery. That's a devious move, considering that Ohio voters have rejected expanding gambling four times in recent years.
But even if the people of Ohio were tempted to ignore the increased addiction, prostitution, and crime that inevitably accompany gambling, the recession shows that casinos and slot machines are not the sure bet they once were to enrich local and state economies.
A recent report by the American Gaming Association found that gambling revenues nationwide were off 4.7 percent in 2008 from 2007 and the number of jobs in gambling declined as a result. In addition, casino owner Trump Entertainment filed for bankruptcy protection in March and several casinos in Las Vegas are said to be in financial trouble. And earlier this year, the Ohio Lottery reported that its new Keno game, which was supposed to raise $73 million for schools, is not coming close.
Why? People are smarter than gaming interests think they are. Those who still have jobs have better things to do with their paycheck than tossing it away on games in which the odds are so stacked against them that the only one assured of walking away a winner is the owner of the casino or slot machine.
No matter how it's packaged, Ohioans know that the expansion of state-sanctioned gambling is still a lame idea. There is no pot of gold at the end of that glowing rainbow, only broken dreams.