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Published: Friday, 8/14/2009

Casino interests wager over $5M

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - The fight over whether to bring Las Vegas-style casino gambling to Ohio is already a multimillion-dollar game even before the first TV ad has aired.

Papers recently filed with the secretary of state's office show that Penn National Gaming Inc., owner of Toledo's Raceway Park, and Dan Gilbert, majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, had thrown more than $5 million into the pot as of July 24 and had wagered $3.4 million of that just to get the question on the ballot.

"It shows they'll throw as much money at it as they think it takes," said Peg Rosenfield, elections specialist with the League of Women Voters of Ohio. "There are gambling interests on both sides. Does this tell you how much profit they think they can make?"

On Nov. 3, voters will be asked to authorize four 24-hour casinos at specific sites in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. Toledo's casino, complete with table games and up to 5,000 slot machines, is proposed for reclaimed industrial property on the riverfront abutting Rossford near I-75.

State law requires voter initiative efforts to detail their spending 30 days after they file petitions to qualify for the ballot. The Ohio Jobs and Growth Committee created by Penn and Mr. Gilbert reported spending more than $3.4 million, most of it on political consultants and a professional signature-gathering firm.

The filing provided more up-to-date data than a semiannual report filed at roughly the same time that only covered activity through June.

The spending breaks down to about $3.80 for each of the roughly 902,000 signatures filed with the secretary of state's office, or about $7.50 for each of the 452,956 signatures that Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner and county election boards eventually determined were valid. The effort needed a little more than 402,000 signatures to qualify.

Penn Ventures, of Wyomissing, Pa., contributed just over $3 million to the effort, and Ohio Venture Jobs and Growth, in Livonia, Mich., put in $2 million as of July 24. The addresses of the limited-liability corporations match the corporate addresses of Penn National and Mr. Gilbert.

"There will be efforts to raise other money, but we've never tried to hide in any way that this is primarily an effort by Penn's and Dan Gilbert's organizations," Ohio Jobs and Growth spokesman Bob Tenenbaum said.

At least one major backer of TruthPAC, a political action committee created to fight the ballot issue, is MTR Gaming Group.

MTR owns Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort at the northern tip of the West Virginia panhandle, sandwiched between Ohio and Pennsylvania. It also owns Scioto Downs, a horse-racing track just south of Columbus that, barring court intervention, is about to get up to 2,500 slot machines under a plan just enacted by Gov. Ted Strickland and lawmakers.

TruthPAC will not have to detail its financing until Oct. 22.

"The other side has deep pockets, too," Ms. Rosenfield said. "We don't have a dog in this fight, but I'm going to be there to watch it."

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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