WE ARE so primed to be duped in Ohio. The punishing recession has robbed us of all perspective. We're weary of job losses and ready to grab at anything that looks like a lifeline.
That's why the Buckeye State, a once proud mecca of manufacturing, is poised to pass bad public policy. High unemployment and a Rust-Belt economy stuck on depressing has made many of us wrongly believe that gambling is the answer to all our woes.
If times were better, jobs were plentiful, and plants were humming with more orders than they could fill, nobody would be seriously considering altering the state constitution to basically create a state-sanctioned casino monopoly for Dan Gilbert and Penn National Gaming. And if the state wasn't hopelessly strapped for revenue and funding wasn't at precarious levels for vital services from education to community programs, pro-casino forces might not be so boldly greedy.
Until now Ohioans have been stubbornly anti-gambling, voting down four previous gambling measures foisted on the state. But today, because we're desperate for economic relief we're allowing ourselves to fall for a lousy gamble framed to look like a jobs and money panacea.
Proponents of Issue 3 are shrewd operators preying on our jobless vulnerabilities with promises of easy money. Their campaign literature doesn't dwell on plans to use the Ohio Constitution to advance their self interests by setting terms for the licensing, governing, and taxing of casinos.
Neither does it mention how amending the constitution to blatantly benefit select casinos virtually eliminates whatever leverage the state could and should have over such enterprises. In fact, nowhere in a recent mailing from Issue 3 backers do the words "casino" or "gambling" even appear.
If you didn't know better you might think Issue 3 is about economic development and funding windfalls for hard-pressed schools and communities in Ohio instead of a sweet business deal written by and for would-be casino owners eager to reap enormous profits without significant strings attached. The group behind the marketing ruse even named itself the Ohio Jobs and Growth Committee.
Casino proponents are shamelessly peddling material that has opportunity knocking on Ohio's door with "new jobs, more money, and better schools." The Yes on 3 propaganda, deliberately sanitized of all gambling references, purports to give voters what Ohio needs most in tens of thousands of jobs with added funding and revenue for everyone.
What's not to like? Who cares if the job count is disputable or most of the promised employment is low-wage? Besides, imagine how casinos planted in four major Ohio cities could boost their fortunes, if not those of Mr. Gilbert and Penn National.
One has only to look at Detroit to see how casinos brought the Motor City back from the brink of ruin, right? Of course, with unemployment rising to more than 28 percent in the city, business has been less than brisk lately at some of the gambling venues, including one that had to declare bankruptcy. Yet, despite the odds against Detroit's comeback with casinos, Ohioans still seem ready to roll the dice on an iffy gambling proposition. Even though Issue 3 is weighted in favor of a small group of businessmen pushing for exclusive casino rights to get rich, voters still seem ready to capitulate on legalized gambling.
An Ohio Newspaper poll conducted by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati found that 59 percent of registered voters support Issue 3. Perhaps the fifth time around for a statewide gambling referendum will be the charm. Can't blame a weary public for giving in when Issue 3 has been cleverly packaged to look like an economic bonanza instead of a bad bet. Then again, polls also indicated similar strong support among voters for the four previous gambling issues before they failed.
So I could be wrong about Ohio voters being easily duped on Issue 3. Maybe they will see the casino charade for what it really is - a calculated play for a constitutionally protected monopoly dressed up to look like a jobs lifeline.
Hopefully Ohioans will conclude that it's not in their best interest to gamble with their constitution on regulatory matters best determined by the legislature when and if residents change their minds on authorizing casinos.
Marilou Johanek is a Blade commentary writer.
Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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