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COLUMBUS -- A bill that could expedite a proposal to shutter Toledo's Raceway Park and move its harness racing and expected slot machine licenses to the Mahoning Valley was quick out of the gate Tuesday.
The Ohio Senate voted 27-6 to send the measure back to the House. But first it attached language that was promised to casino operators as part of deals negotiated by Gov. John Kasich. The House later voted 64-32 to ratify the changes and send the bill on to Mr. Kasich.
Lawmakers had already stripped from the state budget the tax club that Mr. Kasich had wielded to bring casino owners Penn National Gaming Inc. and Rock Ohio Caesars to the table to extract more money for the state. That language would have held the casinos to a strict interpretation of the Commercial Activity Tax that the casinos argued would have cost them tens of millions of dollars.
Tuesday, the Senate inserted language into the racetrack bill to apply the tax only to casino revenue after players' winnings are paid out instead of against every penny wagered.
Although Penn is not specifically mentioned in the legislation, it would get rid of the legislative middleman and allow the Wyomissing, Pa.-based gambling corporation to directly ask the Ohio State Racing Commission to transfer its license for Raceway Park to the Youngstown suburbs and the license for Beulah Park from suburban Columbus to Dayton.
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Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo), whose district includes Raceway, supported the bill.
"I agree with what the casino people are saying," she said. "I think it will compete with the casino if there are slot machines there. The people in Youngstown, Mahoning Valley have been trying everything they know to get something in that part of the state. … I think the racetrack will probably do better in that part of the state.''
She said she hasn't heard anything from her constituents on this subject, "which makes me think that people are either satisfied with the suggestion or it doesn't matter to them one way or the other.''
Penn has not filed a request with the racing commission, but it has told the panel that it will be in contact once racetracks begin acquiring slots licenses. Penn is building casinos on East Toledo's riverfront and at a former industrial site west of downtown Cleveland, and Rock is building in Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Sen. Keith Faber (R., Celina) defended the legislative move to streamline a process that could lead to the moving of a license for a track that employs about 110 full and part-time workers. "Lawmakers won't decide it," he said. "The racing commission will make that determination based on the factors that come before them. … We absolutely should not be picking winners and losers. [The racing commission] is a better expert to make those racing decisions.''
The Senate Tuesday added a third track to the mix, Lebanon Raceway, allowing it to request a move within 20 miles of its current location at the Warren County Fairgrounds. Lebanon is currently forbidden from getting a slots license because of its home on public grounds.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 614-221-0496.