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Casino backers gambled $47.2M on Ohio election

COLUMBUS - The battle over Las Vegas-style casino gambling on Ohio's ballot last month became a massive, high-stakes game with casino backers spending $47.2 million to convince voters to approve the measure.

That's more than $28 each for the 1,663,149 votes cast in favor of Issue 3.

Campaign finance filings show that opponents spent $11.7 million in an attempt to defeat the issue - $7.92 for each of the nearly 1.5 million votes cast against the measure.

The vast majority of spending came from just a handful of gambling interests on both sides that either had a direct stake in Issue 3, wanted to protect their turf from Issue 3, or wanted to be invited to Issue 3's exclusive table.

The primary players behind the ballot issue - Penn National

Gaming, Cleveland Cavaliers majority owner Dan Gilbert, and Minnesota-based Lakes Entertainment Inc. - spent more than $47 million to convince voters on Nov. 3 to authorize four 24-hour casinos on specific locations in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.

Toledo's casino is slated for a 44-acre, reclaimed former industrial site along the Maumee River abutting Rossford and I-75.

Penn, owner of Toledo's Raceway Park, would develop the Toledo and Columbus sites.

Mr. Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans, would develop the casinos in Cleveland and Cincinnati while Lakes would have a small piece of the action at all four.

They hit the jackpot, as 53 percent of voters opted to roll the dice with casinos after two decades of rejecting such proposals.

The vast majority of the opposition money came from West Virginia-based MTR Gaming Group and one of its major players, Cleveland developer Jeff Jacobs. Four political action committees, three of them at least partly financed by Mr. Jacobs or MTR, threw $11.7 million into the pot, using much of it for advertising to urge voters to reject Issue 3.

In the end, they were outspent about 4 to 1.

There was virtually no media presence from traditional anti-gambling groups.

"Every dollar we had went into strategy,'' said David Zanotti, spokesman for the staunch anti-gambling Ohio Roundtable.

"We were there, but what did happen, when it came to media, is there was no anti-casino message. It was Casino A versus Casino B, so voters ignored the whole thing. The race was won before it began.''

The pro-Issue 3 faction pointed to the opposition using former Ohio State University quarterback Art Schlichter as its spokesman. Mr. Schlichter has written a book about this own gambling addiction.

"We were very open at the beginning that we would spend what was needed to win,'' said Bob Tenenbaum, spokesman for Ohio Jobs and Growth Committee, the committee behind Issue 3.

"I think the issue on the other side was not the amount of money spent, but the fact that the effort, though not successful, was to deceive people as to who was behind them.

"This whole business of Families Against Issue 3 was horribly hypocritical - to take a well-known guy, who had a terrible gambling problem, and put him in front of a committee that claimed to be anti-gambling,'' he said.

"It was funded all along by gambling interest Jeff Jacobs.''

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.

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