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Published: Sunday, 11/2/2008

Passage of Issue 6 would pave way for southwest Ohio casino

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS Backers of a single $600 million casino resort in southwest Ohio are gambling that voters have grown sick enough of job losses to finally embrace what they have long rejected.

But opponents of expanded gambling in Ohio and a potential competitor just across the Indiana border are placing their bets that not enough has changed since voters rejected a broader casino proposal just two years ago by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent.

I continue to believe that this is simply not the right economic development strategy for our state, Gov. Ted Strickland said. I strongly believe that this measure would not be in the best interests of Ohio families or our state as a whole.

Issue 6 asks voters to write into the Ohio Constitution approval of a casino resort off I-71 near Wilmington in Clinton County about an hour s drive southwest of Columbus.

MyOhioNow.com, a partnership between two Cleveland-area developers and Minnesota-based casino operator Lakes Entertainment, promises that construction of the casino, hotel, restaurants, golf course, theater, and other amenities would create at least 5,000 direct jobs paying an average of $35,000 a year.

The proponents claim a tax of up to 30 percent on casino receipts would generate more than $200 million a year to be distributed among all 88 counties to use as they see fit. Lucas County s share reportedly would be about $8.5 million.

We re bringing to the state 5,000 jobs at the casino, 2,600 construction jobs, and 3,000 to 5,000 jobs at industries around the casino, said Rick Lertzman, one of two Ohio businessmen who hold a 20 percent stake in the venture to Lakes 80 percent.

There would be $200 million a year to every county in Ohio in addition to all the other taxes property, local, personal income. he said. This is 10,000 jobs when there are no other answers in Ohio. If it fails, there s nothing else in Ohio to replace it. No jobs. No plan.

Opposition ads have largely been financed through a group funded by Penn National Gaming Corp., the Pennsylvania-based owner of Toledo s Raceway Park and the Argosy casino in southeast Indiana about 70 miles from the Wilmington site.

Opposition ads have argued that the amendment would hand a monopoly to one out-of-state company and that a loophole in the language could allow the casino s tax rate to drop to as low as zero if a tax-free Indian tribe casino should someday win federal approval in Ohio.

Although the constitutional language would permit the casino s tax rate to drop if competing casinos later win approval in Ohio, Mr. Lertzman said the backers are willing to commit to a 30 percent rate no matter what. He said they hope to work with the General Assembly on that point when lawmakers draft the language spelling out how the amendment would work, assuming voters say yes on Tuesday.

The Ohio Elections Commission recently found probable cause that ads by the opposition to Issue 6 Penn National have made false or misleading statements, but a final hearing on that question won t take place until after the election.

Contact Jim Provance at:jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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