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Published: 5/2/2006

Raceway Park joins gaming supporters on slot-machine plan

BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - The owner of Raceway Park yesterday dropped its competing slot machine proposal, joining forces with other racetracks and gaming supporters to put a single question to voters on Nov. 7.

"As we've said from the beginning, we're in this to win, and we think our decision [yesterday] to form a united front will go a long way toward helping to accomplish that goal," said Eric Schippers, spokesman for Penn National Gaming, which owns the Toledo track.

Racetracks, the gambling industry, and a pair of Cleveland developers are circulating petitions for a ballot issue asking voters to approve up to 3,000 slot machines at each of the state's seven racetracks as well as two downtown Cleveland sites for a total of 27,000 machines statewide.

The proposal, dubbed "Learn and Earn," would open the door for voters in Cuyahoga County, after four years, to consider adding casino-style table games.

Thirty percent of the proceeds would be earmarked for college scholarships for high-performing high school graduates. Additional revenue would go to local governments and race purse enhancement.

The plan also calls for one-time licensing fees of $15 million from each of potentially four casinos in Cuyahoga to the city and county in the event voters eventually approve an expansion in the types of games planned there.

Penn National had originally pushed for its own plan to place up to 5,000 slot machines at each of the seven racetracks for a total of 35,000 machines statewide. Its plan included no option for a community to add games to the offerings.

The broader coalition had wooed Penn National's support by dropping a proposed slots parlor in downtown Cincinnati, which could have been direct competition for Penn National's riverboat casino across the Ohio River in Lawrenceburg, Ind.

As recently as 1996, voters rejected the idea of Ohio casinos. Gaming supporters hope that the expansion of gambling into neighboring states over the last decade and tying proceeds to college scholarships and local government aid will make the difference this year.



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