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Published: Friday, 7/31/2009

Ohio Supreme Court rules casino issue to remain on November ballot

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - A ballot initiative that could lead to voter approval of four Las Vegas-style casinos with slot machines and table games in Toledo, Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati remains alive.

The Ohio Supreme Court Friday rejected a challenge to petitions filed by the two primary backers of the Nov. 3 ballot initiative asking voters to write four specific casino locations into the Ohio Constitution.

The challenge had been mounted by Columbus area horse-racing track Scioto Downs, which stands to benefit from a plan to introduce a total of 17,500 slot machines to Ohio's seven racetracks. The casinos would be direct competition for the racetrack slots and the state's estimates that they would raise $933 million for Ohio's budget over the next two years.

Scioto Downs had asked the court to order Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner to decertify her approval earlier this month of the petitions based on the signature counts she had received back from county boards of elections.

Ms. Brunner had certified that 452,956 signatures were valid, more than the minimum of 402,275 necessary to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot.

"The secretary of state and the boards have now completed their review of the sufficiency of the petitions and have timely certified their results in accordance with the constitutional and statutory duties," wrote the court. "They had no additional duty or authority to further investigate and invalidate additional part-petitions and signatures following the expiration of the constitutional deadline."

The court took note of the fact that Ms. Brunner has launched a post-certification investigation, but noted that the results of that investigation could lead to prosecutions, not the retroactive invalidation of petitions already approved.

The primary financial backers of the casino effort are Penn National Gaming Inc., owner of Toledo's Raceway Park, and Dan Gilbert, majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Toledo casino, if approved by voters, would be located on reclaimed former industrial land on the city's riverfront abutting Rossford and near I-75.

Scioto Downs had charged that some paid petition circulators had provided false addresses, did not circulate the petitions bearing their names, or were convicted felons barred under Ohio law from being petition circulators.



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