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Published: Friday, 10/23/2009

Casino rivals lock horns in TV debate

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - In a pointed televised exchange, a leading supporter and a leading opponent of the casino gambling issue on the Nov. 3 ballot Thursday night argued their positions and, at times, even argued about whether they were interrupting each other.

The proposal to bring casino gambling to Toledo and three other Ohio cities would create jobs and generate revenue for cities, counties, and school districts, said former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andy Douglas, a spokesman for Penn National, the firm backing the proposal.

In contrast, he said a proposal on last year's ballot - which was defeated by the voters - would have placed only one casino in the state, in southwest Ohio.

Mr. Douglas said he opposed that measure because it "didn't benefit anybody but the casino operators."

"This issue is quantitatively and qualitatively different," he said. "The last proposal was really a fraud, and people were onto that."

Jerry Chabler, a member of the Ohio Racing Commission and a staunch opponent of Issue 3, cast doubt on whether a casino would ever be built in Toledo because the language of the proposed constitutional amendment says it is authorizing, rather than mandating, a casino to be built here.

The proposal calls for casinos on specific sites in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.

"Why do they say 'authorize'? Because in my opinion, there will never be a casino built in Toledo, Ohio," said Mr. Chabler, also a Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board member. He said backers of the proposal saw that voters in Cincinnati and Toledo opposed last year's casino proposal.

"What they're essentially doing is they're buying the votes of the Toledo area and Cincinnati," he said, by listing casino sites in those cities in the proposal.

Mr. Douglas responded: "What [opponents] keep doing is throwing so much mud against the wall, hoping that something's going to stick." He said the language states that licensed casino operators "shall make an initial investment" of at least $250 million on the site. "There will be a casino on that site" in Toledo, he said.

The men were questioned by Tom Walton, retired editor and vice president of The Blade, and viewers who called in during Northwest Ohio Journal, broadcast on WBGU-TV, Channel 27.

Mr. Chabler cited recent opposition to the proposal from former Ohio attorneys general Betty Montgomery and Jim Petro, both Republicans.

Mr. Douglas, a Republican, said, "I think this is wonderful, Mr. Democrat, Jerry Chabler, reaching out to the Republicans to make this case."

"This is a sweetheart deal," Mr. Chabler said of the proposal.

"Let's not talk over each other," Mr. Douglas said.

One caller said opponents have called the casinos "job killers."

"At least they're jobs that can't be outsourced," said Mike of Custar, Ohio.

"This was written by casino owners. Keep that in mind," Mr. Chabler said. "[They] wrote the constitutional amendment, and it's certainly for the casino owners." He said that Penn National has spent $32 million on advertising to say how many jobs the venues will create.

"You know the old cliche: If it's too good to be true, it's usually not true," Mr. Chabler said.

"That's what this is all about - 34,000 jobs. This is about jump-starting our economy," Mr. Douglas said. In response to another caller, he said 19,000 positions would be construction jobs and at least 17,000 would be permanent jobs, and many would pay $40,000 or more a year.

"They will be good jobs with paying benefits," he said.

Mr. Chabler said he is not opposed to casino gambling. In May, he wrote a column in The Blade's Pages of Opinion supporting casinos. In August, he wrote a column in opposition to the current proposal.

"I am not necessarily against casinos, I'm against this particular casino issue," Mr. Chabler said. "The state's getting ripped off. The voters are getting hoodwinked on this, and this is not a good deal for the state of Ohio." He said the casino license fees are too low in contrast to other states.

"This should have been bid," Mr. Chabler said.

Mr. Douglas said the situations in the other states are different.

"You have to compare apples to apples, not apples to lemons," Mr. Douglas said.

Pointing to Mr. Chabler's racing commission membership, Mr. Douglas noted Gov. Ted Strickland's support for placing slot machines at race tracks. Under that plan, Mr. Douglas said, half the money would go to the state.

From the casinos, "this money goes to the local communities and the schools," Mr. Douglas said.

Mr. Chabler replied, "Andy Douglas is getting paid for this or his firm is getting paid for this. I get zero. I have no monetary interest in this whatsoever."

Mr. Douglas said, "The fact is, I get paid by my firm if this wins or loses." He said he has voted against casinos four times in the past.

"I would not be here tonight, I wouldn't be involved, if northwestern Ohio wasn't involved in this, if we didn't have a share," said Mr. Douglas, a former member of Toledo City Council.

Mr. Douglas is "of counsel" with the Columbus law firm of Crabbe, Brown & James. That firm has been subcontracted by Strategic Public Partners Inc. for help with the casino plan.

Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns Raceway Park in Toledo, and Dan Gilbert, majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, are asking Ohio voters to authorize the casinos on the four sites.

Mr. Chabler said, "This whole thing with Issue 3, in my opinion, has turned into the money that Penn National is throwing around on this. Why? Because they're going to make billions and billions of dollars."

The Toledo casino would be on a former Libbey-Owens-Ford Co. waste site on the Maumee River, adjacent to Rossford.

Mr. Douglas said he has met several times with the mayor of Rossford. He and a Penn National official will appear Monday night at the Rossford City Council meeting, he said.

"We mean to do something about helping Rossford if this is successful," he said.

Contact Mark Zaborney at:

mzaborney@theblade.com

or 419-724-6182.



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