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Published: Wednesday, 9/9/2009

Groups fire up television ads as war over slots intensifies

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - The multimillion-dollar ad war over whether voters should allow Las Vegas-style casinos in Ohio is officially under way.

The financial backers of the plan to authorize casinos at specific sites in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati took advantage of a guaranteed huge statewide tune-in during the Ohio State-Navy football game Saturday to push their economic development arguments with a pair of ads.

Opponents of the four-casino plan countered on Sunday with their own TV commercial challenging the casino backers' numbers.

Issue 3, the third gambling proposal on the Ohio ballot in four years, will ask voters on Nov. 3 to write the specific locations of four casinos into the state constitution. Toledo's casino, complete with table games and up to 5,000 slot machines, is proposed for reclaimed former industrial property on the riverfront abutting Rossford near I-75.

Over images of "welcome" signs to Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and West Virginia, a female narrator in one of the pro-casino ads touts the 34,000 jobs that the casino backers claim would be created. "It's about time we took control of our borders," she says. "For too long we've given neighboring states our gaming dollars. As that $1 billion a year goes out of state, with it goes economic opportunity and jobs. It's time to do something."

A second ad over a tight shot of Scott Tipton, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio, reminds voters that the union has endorsed Issue 3.

"Do you really believe that the FOP would endorse an issue that doesn't create jobs?" Mr. Tipton asks.

Declaring the casino plan to be "a bad deal for Ohio" as four joker cards are turned up, the ad financed by the opposing Truth PAC challenges conclusions of the casinos' economic projections.

"According to the out-of-state casino developers' own study, at no time will 34,000 Ohioans be put to work, and the jobs that are created will go to skilled, experienced casino workers from out of state, all because Issue 3 gives no hiring preference to Ohio workers," the male narrator states.

There are deep-pocketed gambling interests on both sides of this campaign, promising an advertising bonanza before the final tally is taken. As of July 24, the last time the pro-casino Ohio Jobs and Growth Committee had to publicly report what they were spending, it had already thrown $5 million into the pot and spent $3.4 million of that just to circulate petitions to put the question on the ballot.

The opponents' Truth PAC won't have to publicly detail its spending until Oct. 22.

The primary backers of Issue 3 are Penn National Gaming Inc., the Wyomissing, Pa.-based owner of Toledo's Raceway Park, and Dan Gilbert, majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In the other corner are MTR Gaming Inc., the force behind Mountaineer Casino at the northernmost tip of West Virginia across the Ohio River, and several Ohio racetracks that are about to benefit from state-run slot machines separately enacted through the state budget.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.


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