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Published: Friday, 10/23/2009

Casino backers outspending foes 5-1

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - The backers of the latest effort to bring Las Vegas-style casinos to Toledo and three other Ohio cities have already wagered nearly $32 million on the campaign.

The other side - primarily competing casino and racetrack operator MTR Gaming Group - has so far been outspent five to one at $6 million as it encourages voters to stay the course and reject a casino plan for the fifth time in 20 years.

"What that tells me is how much money is to be made off of these things … They aren't putting this on the ballot for anything other than they're going to make a killing," said Peg Rosenfield, elections specialist with the League of Women Voters of Ohio.

Campaign finance reports filed yesterday with Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner's office cover spending through Oct. 14. The ad war is only expected to escalate in the final weeks before the Nov. 3 vote on its way to potentially setting a new campaign spending record in the state.

"We knew all along that the 'yes' side would do anything and spend anything to try and win," said Truth PAC spokesman Sandy Theis.

"We also know that voters are seeing through this sweetheart deal that the casinos have written for themselves."

Nearly all of the opposition's money came from either MTR Gaming or Jeff Jacobs, the Cleveland developer who is also a major player in MTR.

"After weeks of refusing to acknowledge where their funding has come from, there's now no doubt whatsoever that Truth PAC is a front for Jeff Jacobs and MTR. They've provided way over 90 percent of [Truth PAC's] money," said Bob Tenenbaum, spokesman for the Ohio Jobs and Growth Committee financed by Penn National Gaming Inc. and Cleveland Cavaliers majority owner Dan Gilbert.

In addition to operating casinos in West Virginia and Pennsylvania that stand to lose part of their market to Ohio casinos, MTR owns Scioto Downs racetrack near Columbus. Until the Ohio Supreme Court recently threw up a roadblock, Scioto Downs stood to benefit from a state plan to install and tax up to 17,500 slot machines at seven racetracks.

Mr. Jacobs has also talked about developing a separate casino resort in downtown Cleveland.

Voters will be asked to amend the Ohio Constitution to authorize one casino each on specific sites in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. The Toledo casino would be on a 44-acre, reclaimed former industrial site along the Maumee River abutting Rossford and I-75.

Penn National, which owns Toledo's Raceway Park and the Hollywood Casino in Indiana, would develop the Toledo and Columbus projects. Mr. Gilbert would develop the Cleveland and Cincinnati casinos.

The campaign reports show that Penn threw $16.2 million into the pot while Mr. Gilbert's Ohio Venture Jobs and Growth contributed $15 million. Most of the money went into advertising and political consulting.

Others contributing to a much lesser extent to the opposition effort were Cleveland area racetrack Northfield Park; Virginia racetrack Colonial Downs, in which Mr. Jacobs also has a financial interest; and Nationwide Insurance.

Most of the opposition money went into Truth PAC, but Colonial Downs and Nationwide contributed $100,000 each to the small Democrats Against Issue 3. Nationwide has objected to the location of Penn's proposed downtown Columbus casino, which would be a hockey puck's throw from the insurance giant's headquarters and Nationwide Arena.

Ms. Rosenfield said she had little sympathy for the opposition, despite the fact that it's been so greatly outspent.

"When did $6 million become cheap? Outrageous," she said. "That's the size of a statewide campaign. Most candidates would kill for $6 million."

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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