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Published: Tuesday, 7/21/2009

Casino question moves closer to being on November ballot

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Barring a court ruling to the contrary, voters will have a chance to weigh in on the idea of Las Vegas-style casino gambling in Ohio for the third time in four years.

Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner Tuesday certified a question for the Nov. 3 ballot that would, if approved, authorize a minimum $250 million casino investment on Toledo's riverfront as well as three other specific sites in Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.

But Ms. Brunner continues to investigate whether those paid to circulate the petitions on behalf of the Ohio Jobs and Growth Committee broke the law. And a challenge filed by Columbus area racetrack Scioto Downs before the Ohio Supreme Court seeks to invalidate some of the petitions she certified.

The court challenge alleges that paid petition circulators have provided false addresses, did not actually circulate the petitions bearing their names, or were convicted felons barred under Ohio law from being circulators.

The high court has set an expedited briefing schedule in the case that will carry the paper filings at least through next Tuesday.

The casino committee filed petitions containing more than 800,000 purported signatures of registered voters late last month, but only about half were ultimately determined to be legitimate by county boards of elections that scrutinized the petitions for fraud or error.

Based on the numbers she received back from counties, Ms. Brunner determined that 452,956 signatures were valid, surpassing the minimum threshold of 402,275, 10 percent of those who voted in the 2006 gubernatorial election.

In addition, she determined that the committee had surpassed a minimum 5 percent threshold in 73 of Ohio's 88 counties. It needed at least 44.

The primary backers of the latest casino plan - Penn National Gaming, Inc., the Pennsylvania-based owner of Toledo's Raceway Park, and Dan Gilbert, majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers - are gambling that the right proposal could convince voters to change the Ohio constitution to allow 24-hour casinos complete with up to 5,000 slot machines each as well as games like poker, Keno, and roulette.



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