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Published: Saturday, 10/29/2011


Race for the riches

In the old days, race horses were doped to make them run slower or faster. These days, Ohioans are the dopes if they don't believe that the future of horse racing in the state was decided long ago.

Making decisions in secret, then holding quick votes to execute them, has become the Kasich administration's signature. Last week, Gov. John Kasich signed an executive order that allows rules governing slot machines at horse tracks to go into effect immediately rather than undergo a 75-day review period.

The same day, the state Lottery Commission passed the rules -- with no discussion. A spokesman for the governor says the rules would be reviewed anyway, and tweaked if necessary.

In the meantime, Toledo Raceway Park's move to Youngstown seems a foregone conclusion. The track's owner, Penn National Gaming, also owns the Toledo Hollywood Casino that is going up off Interstate 75 near the Rossford border. The company knew the track would have to go when it insisted that slot machines at the track would never compete with casino gambling.

The reason for this haste, secrecy, and duplicity: money. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that the state expects to collect $14 million a month in taxes from 17,000 video slot machines that will be installed at the state's seven horse tracks. That's on top of the $50 million state licensing fee for each track and the $150 million investment in track facilities each owner is required to make.

Ohio Roundtable, a conservative public policy group, has sued to stop Governor Kasich in his tracks. It claims that the horse-track slots -- euphemistically called video lottery terminals to make it appear they aren't really gambling -- are unconstitutional, as are the deals cut to get the gambling devices approved.

That's not the only problem. Penn National wants to move its Beulah Park horse track from Columbus to the Dayton area. But two other track operators also are considering a move closer to Dayton. And the Columbus Dispatch reports that a group in Youngstown, which also wants a piece of the "racino" action, may sue the state because only existing horse tracks can apply for slots licenses.

When you move at the speed of business, some people are going to end up run over by the bus -- or trampled by horses. It's beginning to appear that free-market competition and the Ohio Constitution are in danger of being trampled in the race for gambling riches.

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