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Published: Tuesday, 10/27/2009

Rossford council agrees to work with casino firm if Issue 3 passes

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The developers of a proposed casino on Miami Street just north of the Toledo-Rossford city line Monday night assured Rossford officials that they are willing to negotiate contractual terms for police and fire service from that Wood County community if their project goes forward.

With that promise in hand, Rossford City Council voted 5-0, with one absence and one abstention, to endorse State Issue 3, which would allow casino gambling at four specified Ohio locations, including the Miami Street site.

While Toledo may officially be the host city for the casino that Penn National Gaming Inc. of Wyomissing, Pa., would build on the riverfront site next to Pilkington Plc., "we are the host city geographically," Mayor Bill Verbosky, Jr., said.

Mr. Verbosky said there have been several informal meetings with Penn National officials about how the casino might affect Rossford's police and fire departments and its "downtown issues," with an eye toward mak-ing sure that there is no negative impact on the community.

"If this passes, the reality of it is that's where it's going to be," the mayor said of the casino site. "We have to work with Penn to make sure it works."

When Louie Bauer, a former Rossford mayor, asked why no written commitments had yet been made, Eric Schippers, the casino firm's senior vice president for public affairs and government relations, said that while "we don't have today a piece of paper we can hold up," Penn National is "eager" to negotiate a fair agreement that would be in writing.

And Andy Douglas, a former Toledo city councilman and Ohio Supreme Court justice now working as a Penn National spokesman, said that the company would not place any "quid pro quo" on exchanging a services contract pledge for an endorsement - that, he said, would be illegal vote-buying.

Councilman Leonard Michaels recused himself from the casino discussion, and councilman Kenneth Hermes was absent and excused from the meeting.

Because of Rossford's proximity to the casino site, bound by Miami Street, I-75, the Maumee River, and the city line, Rossford's police and fire departments are likely to have faster response times there than their Toledo counterparts would.

While city council accepted only questions for the casino firm when it opened its meeting floor to the public, Robert Ball, the pastor of Rossford United Methodist Church, phrased his queries in such a way to be clear that he opposed the casino.

Along with asking how many of the 34,000 statewide jobs that Issue 3 proponents say the casinos will create would actually be at the Toledo casino, Pastor Ball questioned how "social costs" from problem gambling would be paid.

"My guess is that your dad is probably rolling over right now," Pastor Ball said to Mr. Douglas, whose late father was himself a church minister.

Mr. Douglas had introduced his presentation by stating he was "not here to discuss moral issues" because that will be addressed on Election Day when Ohio voters decide on Issue 3.

Mr. Schippers, meanwhile, said that Ohioans have already voted on gambling by traveling to out-of-state casinos, where revenue from Ohio players has been estimated at between $1 billion and $1.5 billion.

"Everyone else is getting the benefit, and Ohio is footing the tab," Mr. Schippers said.

The casino itself, he said, is likely to have a payroll of about 1,200, while 600 or more permanent jobs predicted for the area would be indirect growth resulting from the casino's presence.

Meanwhile, John Fye, a union carpenter from Toledo, said building the casino, expected to be between 250,000 and 300,000 square feet, would provide work for local tradespeople, even if those jobs aren't permanent.

"All I know is it will benefit a lot of people," said Mr. Fye, who professed having worked construction after being laid off from Pilkington predecessor Libbey-Owens-Ford.

"It's all about jobs. I don't gamble myself, but it's none of my business what you do."

And Mr. Douglas assured Judy Sikorski, who lives on Superior Street - Rossford's continuation of Miami - that the casino amendment to the Ohio Constitution that Issue 3, if approved, would not prohibit charitable gambling at local churches.

Mrs. Sikorski said afterward that while she lives near the proposed casino site, her main concern is for the welfare of local schoolchildren who will go near the facility if it is built.

"Kids are impressionable, and they'll see this as something fun," she said.

Pastor Ball said he wasn't surprised that Rossford council endorsed Issue 3, but believes the dark side of gambling is ignored and that the benefits are overstated.

"Look at Detroit," he said. "What [have] the casinos really done for Detroit?"

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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