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Published: Tuesday, 9/19/2006

Ohio slot machine issue heads for the Nov. 7 ballot

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS Voters, place your bets. Ohio s first casino gambling proposal in a decade is headed for the ballot.

The secretary of state s office has certified Ohio Learn and Earn, the slots-for-scholarships proposal pushed by the state s seven racetracks and two Cleveland developers, for the Nov. 7 ballot. The move sets the stage for an expensive battle over whether Ohio should join all but one of its neighbors in offering slot machine gambling.

The proposal, which would write the specific sites for the slots parlors into the Ohio Constitution, would also open the door for Cuyahoga County to up the ante after four years with casino table games like blackjack and roulette.

A check by county boards of elections of 44,703 additional signatures filed after Learn and Earn s original petitions were deemed deficient showed that 26,081, or 59 percent, were legit. That was more than enough to fill the shortfall of 8,716 signatures cited with the original petitions.

The backers of Learn and Earn have assumed from the beginning that they would make the ballot. They launched their first TV ad in the Toledo market and followed with a similar statewide campaign that unrolled the first week of September. The pace is only expected to escalate through election day.

The racetracks, including Toledo s Raceway Park, and developers alone have

pledge to spend at least $13.5 million to win voter approval.

In order for Ohio voters to get the full picture of college scholars for kids to be able to attend two- and four-year in-state colleges, you have to do a broad-based education campaign, said Learn and Earn spokesman Ian James. That s very expensive in Ohio. There are over 7.5 million registered voters in the state. To reach them it costs what it costs.

Opponents include both candidates for governor, Republican Ken Blackwell

and Democrat Ted Strickland, as well as statewide officials like Gov. Bob Taft and Auditor Betty Montgomery, who argue that bringing gambling closer to home will only increase gambling addition, leading to an increase in crime, bankruptcy, and social ills.

The last casino ballot initiative in 1996 was soundly defeated by voters. But since that vote, every neighboring state except Kentucky permits, or will soon permit, slot machine gambling.

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



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