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Published: Friday, 9/4/2009

Court hears new anti-slots suit

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Round two of litigation to “stop [slot machines] in their tracks” was filed yesterday before the Ohio Supreme Court just a day after the court heard arguments in the first.

The new lawsuit filed by opponents of expanded gambling accuses Gov. Ted Strickland and the Ohio Lottery Commission of violating the state constitution by approving up to 17,500 slot machines at seven horse-racing tracks via executive directive and lottery rule making.

U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (R., Ohio), a former governor, stood with Mr. Strickland in 2006 in successfully campaigning against a proposed constitutional amendment that would have legalized slot machines at the tracks and two stand-alone Cleveland parlors.

“Based on his past comments, he knows that this is not in the best interests of Ohio's families,” Mr. Voinovich said. “The slots will run 24 hours a day, and be available even to people today that can't buy alcoholic beverages, in other words, 18-year-olds.”

Mr. Voinovich is not one of the plaintiffs in the suit, which contends that voters didn't envision slot machines when they approved creation of a ticket-driven lottery in 1973. It also argues that the plan unconstitutionally allows the tracks to keep half of the slots' revenue that should be earmarked solely for K-12 education.

Mr. Strickland embraced the machines as an alternative to deeper cuts in the $50.5-billion, two-year budget he signed last month. The budget banks on generating $933 million for the state via 2,500 slots at each track, including Toledo's Raceway Park.

The state-run slots plan is separate from Issue 3, the Nov. 3 ballot issue that would authorize four Las Vegas-style casinos, complete with table games and slots, at specific sites in Toledo, Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati.

While admitting Mr. Strickland faced a tougher budget situation than he did as governor in the 1990s, Mr. Voinovich said the governor had another choice.

“I would have raised taxes,” he said. “That is what I did in 1992.”

Strickland spokesman Amanda Wurst said it was unfortunate that taxpayers would have to spend money to defend against the lawsuit.

“The governor is focused on successfully implementing the video lottery terminals to fund education, to meet Ohio's obligation to balance the budget, and to do so without a tax increase that in a recession would be harmful to families and businesses,” she said. “The General Assembly authorized VLTs as an activity of the Ohio Lottery, which was constitutionally established.”

The lead plaintiff in the case is the Ohio Policy Roundtable, an ardent opponent to gambling.

On Wednesday, when hearing arguments in separate litigation seeking to put the slots proposal on the 2010 ballot, Justice Paul Pfeifer opined that he could find no prohibition against slot machines and that the language inserted into the budget seemed to be surplus and “meaningless.”

Roundtable President David Zanotti, however, said he did not interpret that comment to mean this lawsuit had lost a vote before it had been argued.

“The processes that have been followed are clearly incorrect,” he said. “If the legislature has the authority to do it, then the legislature can do it. But they didn't. The governor issued an order, and the legislature folded like a cheap chair at a funeral parlor to facilitate the order.”

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



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