COLUMBUS - In what he described as a “first-strike offensive,'' Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell yesterday began a campaign to persuade elected officials, candidates, and citizens to pledge their opposition to expanded gambling.
“Those who encourage additional state-sanctioned gambling are, in effect, sponsoring a regressive tax paid largely by Ohio's low and moderate-income families,'' said Mr. Blackwell, a Republican seeking re-election.
He acknowledged that his news conference was an attempt to influence the debate of a committee studying the social and economic effects of legal and illegal gambling in the state.
“You don't take a chance of putting yourself in a defensive position,'' he said. “When you have a decade of experience in fighting this, you take the offensive.''
The eight-member Gambling Impact Committee, created by the same law that authorized Ohio to join a multistate lottery, will miss its June 30 deadline for issuing a final report by about two weeks.
It continued to fine-tune a draft yesterday that does not endorse video lottery terminals at racetracks, something the racing industry insists is necessary to compete with machine-subsidized purses at tracks in West Virginia and Indiana.
The draft recommends that the state devote resources for an in-depth study of the issue, something the committee said it could not afford to do. Much of its cost estimates came from the racing industry.
“The economic analyses available to this committee were not adequate to determine whether the benefits from the Ohio economy from the VLT revenues and from enhancing its horse-racing industry exceed the high problem gambling costs that may result,'' reads the draft.
The committee, whose members include the executive director and two members of the lottery commission, also retroactively sanctioned Ohio's decision to join the MegaMillions multistate game, formerly the Big Game.
State Sen. Jim Jordan (R., Urbana) and state Rep. Linda Reidelbach (R., Columbus) became the first legislators to sign the pledge. Despite the anticipated committee report, Mr. Jordan said he expects a push in the General Assembly after the November election or in early 2003 to allow slots at race tracks.
Gov. Bob Taft opposes video lottery terminals, but some legislators, including several members of the study committee, have aggressively pushed for them. The temptation to expand gambling could grow stronger when lawmakers face tough decisions next year to close what is expected to be a $4 billion gap in the 2004-05 budget.
Instead of expanding gambling, government should attempt to balance the general fund with efforts to “spur the economy by making government more efficient,'' Mr. Blackwell said.
He referred to video terminals as “nothing more than slot machines or one-arm bandits, an appropriate nickname for a device which often robs families of badly needed funds.''
The pledge states: “I hereby pledge to actively oppose passage of any legislation or ballot issues that would expand gambling in the state of Ohio.... State-sponsored gambling is nothing more than a regressive, morally questionable form of taxation.''
In response to a question, Mr. Blackwell said he would still support Republican candidates who refuse to sign the pledge.