COLUMBUS - Ohio should consider starting a multistate lottery with other big states to boost the amount of money that flows into the state's K-12 budget, Senate President Richard Finan said yesterday.
Mr. Finan said Ohio Lottery officials have advised him that Ohio might reap higher profits by forming its own multistate game than by joining Powerball or The Big Game.
In the late 1980s, a proposal surfaced for Ohio to start a “Great Lakes Game” with Michigan and other large states, but it didn't go anywhere.
An Ohio Lottery spokesman said state officials have not come up with a plan to resurrect the idea but referred to it as a “possibility.”
The Big Game is in Michigan and Illinois. Powerball is in Indiana, Kentucky, and Virginia.
Michigan wants Ohio to join The Big Game, which can be played in seven states including New Jersey.
“There might be a compelling argument to drop out of The Big Game and start a new multistate lottery, but I don't know what it would be,” said Don Gilmer, commissioner of the Michigan Lottery. “We have one area along the border that would say, `Sales won't be as good with Ohio in The Big Game,' but it's not like we have a border with hundreds of miles.”
The Pennsylvania Lottery is not part of a multistate game, in part because of fears that the lure of big jackpots would siphon money from lottery profits that are used for elderly programs, said Deb Snyder, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Revenue.
Ms. Snyder said she does not know whether Pennsylvania has any interest in joining Ohio and other Great Lakes states in a multistate lottery.
State Sen. Mark Mallory (D., Cincinnati) noted that other Powerball states would have to agree to allow Ohio to join. He said he doesn't believe neighboring Indiana and Kentucky would agree and risk losing bettors from Ohio.
Instead, Ohio might look to join The Big Game, Mr. Mallory said.
Mr. Taft included the proposal in the two-year, $44.8 billion state budget this week to try to jumpstart lottery profits, which are required to flow into the state's K-12 budget. The amount transferred from lottery profits to the education budget has dropped from $749 million in 1997 to $686 million last year.
As expected, Mr. Taft's call for Ohio to join a multistate game has unleashed other proposals to expand gambling.
Two Republican state senators who chair powerful committees, Louis Blessing of Cincinnati and Doug White of Manchester, said they plan to introduce a bill to allow race tracks to install video lottery machines.
The proposal, which could provide a boost to Raceway Park in Toledo, would generate $233 million per year for the state's K-12 budget, backers told a legislative committee last year.
But Governor Taft said he has “serious reservations” about a proposal to allow video lottery terminals at Ohio racetracks. He didn't rule it out, though.
Asked whether he would use his veto power to kill the video lottery terminal proposal if it's tucked into the state budget, Mr. Taft replied: “We're going to have to review that question as it develops.”
Mr. Finan and House Speaker Larry Householder (R., Glenford) said they haven't taken a stance.
Mike White, general manager of Raceway Park, said video lottery terminals - referred to as VLTs - would help the track compete against five casinos in Detroit and two in Windsor, Ont.
“VLTs have benefited purses and that means we're able to offer better racing,” he said.
About 100 people gathered at the Statehouse to oppose Mr. Taft's plan for Ohio to join a multi-state lottery and lobby legislators.
To the governor's argument that lottery profits are dwindling as a source of school funding, opponents replied: “Good.”
“The lottery is a bad idea,” said the Rev. John Edgar of the Ohio Council of Churches' Anti-Lottery Task Force. “Citizens across Ohio are facing that truth and playing less and less.”
The group yesterday started its lobbying effort to defeat Mr. Taft's proposal.
“The governor's response is absolutely parallel to an addicted gambler,” Mr. Edgar said. “The lottery is losing money, so the governor wants to play it more. It just does not make sense.”
Blade Writer Jim Provance contributed to this report.
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