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Published: Tuesday, 7/21/2009

Top court asked to order vote on slots


COLUMBUS - A former Republican state representative and two other voters Monday launched the first court attack against a just-passed plan to introduce as many as 17,500 slot machines to the state's seven horse-racing tracks. It's not expected to be the last.

They asked the Ohio Supreme Court to rule that legislative language added to the just-passed $50.5 billion, two-year budget and an accompanying directive from Gov. Ted Strickland authorizing slot machines through the Ohio Lottery should be subject to referendum by voters. Typically, unlike other bills, items included in appropriations bills are not subject to second-guessing by voters.

"No governor or legislature should be permitted to nullify the [constitutional right of referendum] by cleverly burying controversial legislation in large appropriation bills or by making bare assertions that such legislation is exempt from referendum,'' reads the lawsuit.

The challenge to the racetrack slots proposal was filed by former state Rep. Tom Brinkman, a Cleveland Republican, David Hansen, formerly of the conservative Buckeye Institute think tank, and Columbus political consultant Gene Pierce. Other litigation is expected soon to challenge the move by Mr. Strickland and lawmakers to enact slot machines without a vote of the people. Voters have repeatedly rejected proposals to introduce casino-style gaming in Ohio.

Yesterday, Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner launched an investigation into allegations of misconduct by circulators of petitions seeking to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 3 ballot to authorize four Las Vegas-style casinos at specific sites in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.

She said her investigation will continue although today marks the deadline for her to decide whether the petitions contain the more than 400,000 valid signatures of registered voters needed to qualify for the ballot.

"As we have examined the petitions in question when they are returned by the boards of elections, we believe it prudent to further investigate particular situations involving particular circulators to ensure that any issue that makes it to the ballot does so under conditions that are honest,'' Ms. Brunner said.

"While I no longer have the ability to invalidate individual signatures, I still can investigate to ensure the integrity of the process and prevent problems in the future," she said.

She noted that the final decision on the validity of the signatures probably will be made by the Supreme Court. It already has before it a lawsuit filed by the owner of the Columbus-area racetrack Scioto Downs alleging fraud on the part of the committee.

The primary backers of the casino proposal are Toledo Raceway Park owner Penn National Gaming Inc. and Dan Gilbert, majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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