COLUMBUS - Despite an increasingly contentious campaign, the lead for the casino issue on next week's statewide ballot has dropped only slightly and stands at 18 points, a new poll for Ohio's major newspapers shows.
The survey also shows that voters like Gov. Ted Strickland's plan to balance the state budget by delaying a state income-tax cut, but they are deadlocked over whether the Democrat deserves another term.
Will Ohioans' newfound pro-gambling sentiments hold up through Election Day?
The outcome of state Issue 3 all comes down to who shows up at the polls: voters such as Kelly Collins or voters like Mike Harbison.
"I voted 'no' the last time it was on the ballot,' said Ms. Collins, 27, an insurance company service representative from Cleveland.
"Since the state still seems to be struggling, though, I think we need to try something different. Several people I know travel out of state frequently to gamble in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. I'd rather those people spend their money in our state."
The Ohio News Organization that commissioned this Ohio Newspaper Poll is a cooperative formed by the state's eight largest newspapers to share news and features. The newspapers in the group are The Blade, the Akron Beacon Journal, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Columbus Dispatch, the Dayton Daily News, the Plain Dealer of Cleveland, the Repository of Canton, and the Vindicator of Youngstown. The newspapers commissioned the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati to conduct the poll, which was done by surveying 687 registered Ohio voters between Oct. 14 and Oct. 20. The poll had an error margin of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
Thus, Ms. Collins' "no" vote on previous Ohio gambling issues has become a "yes" on this year's measure to put casinos in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Toledo.
Not so for Mr. Harbison.
The 61-year-old consulting engineer from Montgomery, a Cincinnati suburb, opposed the earlier proposals and will vote against the current plan. He said casinos would increase such problems as crime and gambling addiction in Ohio. And he's suspicious about how casino proponents drew up the proposed constitutional amendment themselves.
"I don't like an industry - any industry, for that matter - supplying-providing input into the language that changes the state constitution," he said. "That's like having a wolf in a chicken's costume in the hen house."
The turnout question
Ohio voters currently favor Issue 3 by 57 percent to 39 percent, with 4 percent undecided. That compares to 59 percent for and 38 percent against a month ago.
"The poll shows there's a possibility to close this, but like everything else, it depends on turnout composition," said Eric Rademacher, co-director of the University of Cincinnati's Institute for Policy Research, which conducted the poll.
"Opponents will need to ramp up the opposition. There's going to need to be a higher-profile advertising effort on the 'no' side. There's certainly going to need to be a ramped-up effort on the part of political leaders who have come out against this issue, and I think with some of the local grass-roots efforts, not only through organizations but through churches, Mr. Rademacher said. "They really have a lot of work to do."
Mr. Rademacher, also a political science professor, said he senses an air of 'inevitability' among voters that gambling will wind up in Ohio, and he cites Mr. Strickland's support of electronic slot machines at horse-racing tracks as a key factor. The governor's turnaround on slots last summer shifted the debate from one of gambling vs. no gambling to a discussion of which type of gambling should be allowed and where the money should go.
‘The additional state tax paid by the casinos will help Ohioans,' says James Stanway, 64, a retiree in Springfi eld, in southwestern Ohio. ‘New jobs will be created, and these dollars will be spent in Ohio.'
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Focus on jobs
A majority (53 percent) of casino backers cited the prospect of new jobs as the most important reason for their support of the issue.
"The additional state tax paid by the casinos will help Ohioans," said James Stanaway, 64, a retiree in the southwestern Ohio city of Springfield. "New jobs will be created, and these dollars will be spent in Ohio, and these new jobs will be paying Ohio income and sales tax. Additionally, spin-off jobs will be created in addition to the jobs created in the casinos."
Another retiree, Richard Mason, 69, of Dover in northeast Ohio said, "I have traveled through the Lawrenceburg, Aurora, and Vivay areas of Indiana for many years, beginning before the Indy casinos, and have watched it change from a major depressed area into a thriving, improved area."
Art Dilger's reason for supporting the casino proposal is more direct: He wants to be able to gamble in Ohio. The 53-year-old materials director from North Royalton has played the odds in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Detroit casinos and on Indiana riverboats, but he would like something a little closer to his home near Cleveland.
Robert Bell, 43, said casinos will increase problems such as crime and gambling addiction in Ohio. That was the No. 1 reason opponents gave for turning thumbs down to Issue 3.
The architect from Oxford, in southwest Ohio, said he is against gambling in general and that Ohioans "don't need more low-wage jobs."
William Miller of Middleburg Heights in suburban Cleveland is voting "no" because of what he witnessed as a youth in eastern Ohio.
"I was born and raised in East Liverpool, Ohio, directly across the river from the Mountaineer Casino in West Virginia. I saw the damaging effects Mountaineer had on the social fabric of our community, and I witnessed how the only economic development fostered by the casino took place on casino grounds - excepting, of course, the strip club across the street."
The 28-year-old human resources representative said he doesn't believe casinos will help Ohio's economy. "Gambling is a red herring used by lazy politicians who want to find an easy way to solve problems.
Our government leaders should do the real work of economic development by improving the business environment of Ohio to attract legitimate industry rather than by engaging the vices of others."
John Martin of Perrysburg doesn't like the "selective" amending of the Ohio Constitution in Issue 3. "If we are to allow casinos in Ohio, then we should not restrict which citizens will receive the profits," said Mr. Martin, 22, who is unemployed. "If we are to allow gambling in Ohio, we must allow all companies a chance to provide this service. And, we certainly mustn't single out private institutions within our constitution."
Casino support among northwest Ohioans increased by 10 percentage points from last month's Ohio Newspaper Poll. The new poll found that 55 percent of northwest Ohio respondents in favor, 36 percent opposed, and 9 percent undecided. The earlier survey found 45 percent for, 53 percent against, and 2 percent undecided.
In both cases, the margin of error would be higher than the margin for the entire poll because of a smaller sampling size.
Although Mr. Strickland's plan to balance the state budget by putting video slot machines at the horse tracks fell through, his push to delay the final 4.2 percent of a 21 percent state income tax enacted in 2005 wins a plurality of support.
When given a choice of postponing the tax cut, raising taxes in other areas, or making additional cuts in state programs and services, 42 percent chose to forgo the tax reduction.
"It's better than the other two choices," said Delinda Clark, 31, a customer service representative from Oakwood in northwest Ohio.
Another 16 percent want higher taxes, while 26 percent opted for more cuts - including John Crosby, 44, a compliance supervisor from Marietta who says there is "too much government spending as is."
Although those results are good news for Mr. Strickland and the House Democrats who recently approved the tax-cut freeze, an early look at the likely gubernatorial match-up next year is more sobering for the incumbent.
Mr. Strickland is ahead of former central Ohio Congressman John Kasich, a Republican, by a single point, 48 percent to 47 percent.
Paul Kemp, 74, of Columbus said Mr. Strickland, a Democrat, deserves four more years. "With the problems that he had when he took office, he hasn't had a chance to do the things he promised to do," said the former heavy equipment operator for the city of Columbus.
Mr. Miller, the Middleburg Heights man, has come to the opposite conclusion.
"I approved of Strickland's job during the first couple years of his term, but the financial crisis made him renege on some convictions he once said he held. The true colors of the man have been shown, and it is time for him to go."
The telephone survey of 687 registered Ohio voters conducted from Oct. 14 through Tuesday has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
The poll also has more self-identified Republicans than Democrats, which represents a large shift from the same poll a month earlier and other recent Ohio surveys. If the Democratic-oriented electorate of Ohio's recent past returns, that likely would mean an even better environment for the casino issue, Mr. Rademacher said. Democrats favor the issue by more than a 2-to-1 margin, while Republicans are divided evenly.
On the other hand, while Mr. Rademacher did not develop a "likely voter" scenario for this survey, the measure is ahead by only 14 points, 55 percent to 41 percent, among those who said they will definitely vote.