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Published: Wednesday, 4/30/2008

Minneapolis man revealed as financial supporter of Ohio s casino effort


COLUMBUS A Minneapolis casino operator is the major financial backer behind an effort to convince voters to amend their constitution to legalize a single $600 million casino development in southwest Ohio.

A pair of developers who want to put the amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot will finally introduce their money man, Lyle Berman, chief executive officer of the publicly traded Lakes Entertainment Inc., in a series of press events across the state beginning Thursday. They will be in Toledo Friday.

The casino would be located near Wilmington in rural Clinton County, some 180 miles from Toledo off I-71 between Columbus and Cincinnati. The Ohio Constitution currently doesn t provide for casino gambling, and repeated efforts over the last two decades, including a major effort to legalize slot machines at racetracks, have failed to change that.

Mr. Berman, 66, has been involved in both private and tribal casinos in Las Vegas, Mississippi, Michigan, and other locations. He is chairman of the televised World Poker Tour.

"We believe the project will directly benefit the people of Ohio by creating a large number of jobs in the state and also generate millions in tax revenues that will go directly to the counties on a per capita basis, to be spent as each county wishes," said Mr. Berman.

Rick Lertzman, one of the developers, said Wednesday that Mr. Berman joined the project after a potential location had been selected but before the process began to gather signatures of registered voters to put the amendment on the ballot.

"We knew him in the 1990s. We knew this would take a lot of funding, so when we reached out for a partner, we knew the only person to call was Lyle," said Mr. Lertzman. "He appreciated what we were doing and was excited about the prospects.

"He had just built a $450 million casino outside South Bend, Ind., a beautiful structure," he said. "It s just what we re talking about no neon, nothing glitzy, no exploding volcano. It really had the Midwestern sensibility, a classy entertainment complex."

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