Friday, Jul 29, 2016
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Ohio Senate, House debate details of gambling bill

COLUMBUS - Bars and restaurants seeking a piece of the state's expanding gambling action by getting their own slotslike skill-based games came up empty last night as lawmakers worked toward agreement on rules governing Ohio's new casinos.

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 20-12 along party lines last night on a bill that would implement the constitutional amendment that voters approved last November authorizing one 24-hour, Las Vegas-style casino each in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.

Facing a deadline for legislative action of midnight tonight, the Democratic-controlled House is expected to reject the bill to set up a last-minute conference committee to hammer out a quick compromise.

"We have public trust at stake here … This is our mandate,'' said Rep. Kenny Yuko (D., Richmond Heights), the bill's sponsor.

Among the key issues that remain in dispute:

•Potentially thousands of skill-based games at bars, restaurants, and clubs far removed from the four casino sites.

The House had given approval for such games, which critics have characterized as slot machines in disguise. The Senate, however, has removed that authorization.

•Urban job-training programs. The House had earmarked $70 million in casino workforce development funds for such programs, much to the chagrin of rural and suburban areas. The Senate killed that provision.

•Casino fees. The House wanted to charge casinos $2 million to apply for operating licenses while the Senate initially set the figure at $1 million.

The compromise: $1.5 million. The casinos, however, will still have to pay $20,000 for a casino-wide state liquor license.

Sen. Keith Faber (R., Celina) defended the decision to remove the appropriation for urban workforce development

"To pick specific workforce initiatives - whether it's urban initiatives, rural initiatives, or other initiatives - without a competitive process … would be merely picking politically favored initiatives over others,'' he said.

Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo), however, questioned the lack of an appropriation for operation of the soon-to-be-created state casino gaming commission that will license and regulate the casinos.

"I'm not sure how we get started unless we have that casino control commission ready to go,'' she said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Taxation questioned a provision that would allow Ohioans to use their gambling losses to offset their winnings when it comes to paying state income taxes, much as they do now with federal taxes.

"We have a fiscally tight budget,'' spokesman John Kohlstrand said. "This is a deduction that is not paid for.''

He estimated the state could lose $15 million in the next fiscal year to begin July 1 simply from Ohio residents who experience losses in Las Vegas or elsewhere but currently pay state taxes based solely on winnings.

He said the state could forfeit $30 million to $40 million a year that it might otherwise collect once all four casinos are running.

In other action, the Senate:

•Voted 24-8 to kill a now suspended inmate worker program at the Governor's Residence that had been championed by Gov. Ted Strickland but had come under fire by the Ohio inspector general and Republicans for lack of proper supervision. The bill, triggered following the controversy of a cancelled contraband sting at the mansion in January, is not expected to be embraced by the Democratic-controlled House.

•Voted 24-8 to ban creation of an animal-human hybrid by transplanting a human embryo into an animal's womb and vice versa. The bill now goes to the House for consideration. The sponsor, Sen. Stephen Buehrer (R., Delta), said the bill is a reaction to experiments taking place in other countries that he said threaten to turn science fiction into reality.

•Approved a bill mandating that a new budget commission meet at least six times between July 1 and Nov. 30 when its report is due. The commission is charged with making recommendations to deal with what is expected to be a shortfall measuring as wide as $8 billion in the next two-year budget. The amendment was proposed by Rep. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green).

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.

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