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Published: Thursday, 9/22/2011

No-experience regulator to oversee Ohio casinos


COLUMBUS -- After a months-long search for someone with regulatory experience to ride herd on Ohio's four casinos, a state panel yesterday chose someone with none.

Matt Schuler, chief of staff for the Republican president of the Ohio Senate, was appointed executive director of the Casino Control Commission. Commission members recruited the 44-year-old Gahanna resident after having trouble enticing regulators from other states to take a similar job in Ohio.

One of Mr. Schuler's major duties will be overseeing the licensing of four casinos that want to open in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati between spring 2012 and spring 2013.

"It is a great honor that you have asked me to do this," Mr. Schuler said after the unanimous vote by the bipartisan, seven-member panel.

He later told the Dispatch that while it's tough leaving the Senate, he couldn't pass up the opportunity to build an agency of more than 150 staffers from the ground up.

"It's going to be a great challenge and one we need to do right the first time," Mr. Schuler said.

His salary hasn't been decided, but he will make no more than $146,286 a year under state law. He recently got a $15,000 raise in the Senate, to $138,507. He's expected to start in October.

Though Mr. Schuler lacks full-time experience in the gambling arena, he oversees 125 Senate employees and worked closely with lawmakers to craft casino regulations "from the very beginning," commission Chairman Jo Ann Davidson said.

The former Ohio House speaker said Mr. Schuler understands Ohio's gambling landscape and has great relationships with the legislature, which could be asked to tweak gambling laws in the future.

The selection was criticized by Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern, who questioned why a GOP staffer was chosen for what he said is one of the more high-profile jobs in the Kasich administration.

"Matt's a good guy. Matt's a bright guy. But he's just flat-out not qualified to run the Casino Control Commission," he said.

Ms. Davidson said that after talking with out-of-state candidates with gambling backgrounds, commission members realized it would be tough to land someone of the caliber they wanted and instead looked closer to home.

Commission member Peter Silverman, a Democrat from Toledo, said he initially was concerned that hiring Mr. Schuler would appear "political." After interviewing Mr. Schuler, he felt comfortable with Mr. Schuler's integrity.

"He brings a knowledge of government," Mr. Silverman said.

Mr. Silverman said candidates from other states either were in good regulatory jobs already -- not wanting to hinder their pensions -- or had opportunities in the private sector. They would have required a yearly salary of $200,000 to $250,000, he said.

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