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Published: Wednesday, 11/20/2002

Ohio senate to look at video slots


COLUMBUS - Anti-gambling activists are mobilizing to fight a bill introduced yesterday that would allow up to 14,000 video gambling machines at Ohio's seven horse-racing tracks, including Toledo's Raceway Park.

“It's the most blatant defiance by an elected body to the expressed will of the people that I have seen in a long time,” said David Zanotti, president of the Ohio Roundtable, a group from Solonwhich has fought an expansion of gambling in Ohio.

Yesterday, state Sen. Louis Blessing (R., Cincinnati) unveiled a new version of his legislation to require the Ohio Lottery Commission to install the gambling machines at racetracks. The legislation would allow each track to have up to 2,000 “video lottery terminals,” which can be programmed to play simulated slots, blackjack, keno, and bingo.

Mr. Blessing's bill includes an “emergency clause,” which requires at least a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives for the measure to take effect immediately instead of in 90 days. He said he included the clause because Senate and House supporters would need at least a two-thirds majority to override a promised veto from Gov. Bob Taft.

“If the governor is serious, we need that many votes anyway,” he said.

But Mr. Zanotti said if legislators approve the bill with the emergency clause, it would prevent a referendum under state law, and he believes that is Mr. Blessing's motive.

Mr. Blessing has said with the state facing a projected $4 billion shortfall in the two-year operating budget that starts July 1, 2003, video gambling machines could generate $500 million a year for the state's education budget.

The bill is expected to be shipped to the Senate Agriculture Committee because it appears that a majority of members support it. Mr. Blessing acknowledged that his bill did not have enough support in the committee he chairs, which is Ways and Means.

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