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Published: Sunday, 11/8/2009

Cashing in on casinos

HUNGER, it is said, will make thieves of us all.

That truth was illustrated Tuesday when recession-worn Ohio voters, who had rejected gambling four times, decided to give gaming interests a sweet deal in return for the promise of future jobs, millions of dollars for job training, and more millions to fill empty local coffers.

Support for Issue 3 came largely from the counties surrounding three of the four proposed casino sites - Toledo, Cleveland, and Cincinnati. Sixty-five percent of Ohio counties including Franklin County, where the fourth casino will be located, said no.

While we will have to wait to see if this gamble pays off for Ohio and, especially, the Toledo area, we have no doubt it will pay off for Dan Gilbert and Penn National Gaming.

Still, the votes barely had been counted before interested parties in Columbus began to envision changes to what voters wrought, including ways to squeeze more money out of the casino operators.

State Rep. Clyde Evans (R., Rio Grande) quickly proposed another constitutional amendment to increase the tax on casino profits from 33 percent to 60 percent; take the money away from counties, cities, and local schools, and split it instead between the state's education budget and a college scholarship fund.

Even before Tuesday's vote, lobbyists and Republican lawmakers were talking about defining schools as job-training sites so they could transfer gaming receipts earmarked for job training to the education budget, freeing up education dollars to be used elsewhere.

However, Gov. Ted Strickland correctly pointed out that it's a bit late to start complaining about the cards voters dealt themselves. As he put it: "Elections have consequences."

Unless Columbus reshuffles the deck, Toledo's challenge will be ensuring that "Hollywood Casino Toledo" doesn't suck the economic life out of its host city. Progress has been made in recent years in the quest to bring more people downtown to live, work, and play. That progress has to continue if the city is to survive.

If the proposed casino - located three miles south of downtown, across the Maumee River - takes business away from downtown bars, restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues, or if it brings with it more crime, prostitution, and other problems, then it could prove to be the bad deal critics have predicted.

The heat is on Mayor-elect Mike Bell, who was in favor of Issue 3, as well as City Council, Destination Toledo (the former Greater Toledo Convention and Visitors Bureau), and others to work closely with Penn National president Tim Wilmott to make sure his gaming house does not detract from existing venues such as the Lucas County Arena and Fifth Third Field.

If all visitors experience of downtown is what they see through the window of the shuttle from their hotel to the casino, then Toledo will have lost its Election Day bet.



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