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Published: Thursday, 4/13/2006

Petition language is rejected by Petro

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - Attorney General Jim Petro yesterday rejected the proposed descriptions of a trio of proposed constitutional amendments that would bring slot machines to Ohio.

The move by the Republican attorney general, a staunch opponent of expanded gambling, isn't unlikely to prove fatal to attempts to place the questions on the November ballot.

"It's a small point. We'll address it and move forward," said David Hopcraft, spokesman for the Learn and Earn initiative that proposes slot machines at Ohio's seven racetracks, two additional sites in downtown Cleveland, and one in downtown Cincinnati. Thirty percent of the slots' revenue would be used to pay for in-state college scholarships for high-performing high-school graduates.

Mr. Petro cited the same problem for all three proposed amendments. His approval of the summary language is necessary before the backers may begin the process of gathering nearly 323,000 valid signatures of registered voters to put the questions on the ballot.

He determined that the language submitted was not a "fair and truthful" representation of the proposed constitutional changes because it failed to mention that the "casinos" could be operated 24 hours a day at the discretion of the facilities' owners.

"This provision overrides the home rule and other regulatory authority of local officials to control the operations of businesses located within their jurisdictions," he wrote. "I believe that for this summary to be fair and truthful, and truly advise any signatory of what he or she is signing, it must advise such individuals of the significant erosion of local authority to regulate the operations."

The three competing ballot initiatives are all variations on the same theme with all largely spending the proceeds in the same way. Among them are:

• Education Yes, pushed by Penn National Gaming Inc., owner of Toledo's Raceway Park. It would allow slot machines only at the racetracks, up to 5,000 machines per track.

●Learn and Earn, pushed by a broader coalition of racetracks, developers, and other gambling interests. It would allow up to 10 slots parlors at the racetracks and in downtown Cleveland and Cincinnati, with up to 3,000 machines at each site. It would also allow a local voter option later to expand to casino-style table games.

●A plan pushed by Cleveland interests that would be similar to Learn and Earn but would require the facilities to pay $30 million in up-front fees to each host community.

The home-rule issue was one of 11 cited by the conservative Ohio Roundtable when it asked Mr. Petro to reject the summary language.

"This doesn't stop what they're doing," said Roundtable President David Zanotti. "It's a factual omission that they will get an opportunity to correct. They're committed to spending $15 million to $30 million on this campaign. I'm sure they'll spend a few more bucks to get the signatures they need."

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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