THE Ohio Constitution describes the basic structure of state government. It was not intended to be used to give any business an exclusive right to operate. For that reason alone, voters should reject Issue 3 on Nov. 3.
Two firms, Pennsylvania-based Penn National Gaming and Rock Ventures LLC — owned by Michigan-based Dan Gilbert — are hoping that Ohio voters have been sufficiently frightened by the state's continuing economic problems and double-digit unemployment rate to set aside their good sense by voting to give them the exclusive right to open casinos in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. They also want to fix their own license fee and taxes, which would be lower than in some states that have allowed casino gambling, and set those in stone in the state constitution as well.
Of course, even if the tax rate were set at 100 percent, enshrining special favors for specific businesses in the Ohio Constitution would be a terrible idea. Not only is it foolish to clutter the document in this manner, it also makes no business sense to write a constitutional mandate to give any private company a monopoly to do business in the state. It would be like making it unconstitutional for any fast-food restaurant other than Burger King to serve french fries in Ohio.
Voters should also remember that the reason it is difficult to amend the state constitution is to avoid having short-term concerns or passions result in wholesale changes that harm the state in the long run. What is given away in haste, such as control over gambling, may be regretted at leisure.
Ironically, when different gambling interests pushed a constitutional amendment in 2008 to allow a single casino near Wilmington, in southwest Ohio, Penn National was one of the issue's biggest opponents, arguing that it was wrong to use the constitution in that way. Penn National objected because it feared competition for its nearby casino in Indiana.
Gambling backers have also hired former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andy Douglas to shill for them. He might have been expected to show more respect for the state's founding document, but perhaps money spoke louder to the former Toledo councilman.
If Penn National and Mr. Gilbert think gambling is so good for Ohio, let them get rid of this stacked deck and back a constitutional amendment that allows gambling without rigging it so they're the only winners.
Ohioans have voted four times, in 1990, 1996, 2006, and 2008, to protect the state constitution from being used to establish private monopolies. We are confident they will do so again Nov. 3 by voting “No” on Issue 3.
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