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Published: Thursday, 11/5/2009

Toledo casino will be built in 2 1/2 years, company says

BY JIM PROVANCE
AND IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

COLUMBUS - Penn National Gaming vowed yesterday that a casino will rise on the banks of the Maumee River after voters broke a two-decade logjam to support Las Vegas-style gambling in Ohio.

"We will have Hollywood Casino Toledo in two to two-and-a-half years," said Tim Wilmott, the Pennsylvania-based corporation's president. He made the statement as he stood with Mayor Carty Finkbeiner on the reclaimed former industrial site that is to be the home of Toledo's casino.

"We will create the jobs, the construction jobs we promised, [and] the permanent jobs we promised," Mr. Wilmott said.

The casino name fits with Penn's gambling brand already attached to many of its facilities in Indiana, Maine, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Mississippi, and Louisiana. It will also be attached to Penn's promised casino in Columbus.

Dave Nolan, president of Destination Toledo Inc., formerly the Greater Toledo Convention and Visitors Bureau, said his agency will launch a national marketing campaign for the city next month that will promote the casino.

On Tuesday, nearly 1.7 million Ohio voters, about 53 percent of the total casting ballots, agreed to place their bets with 24-hour casinos in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.

Toledo's casino, as specified in the voter-approved constitutional amendment, would be built on 44 riverfront acres in East Toledo between Rossford and I-75.

Voting machines had barely been unplugged before lawmakers were talking about rethinking what voters had approved.

Rep. Clyde Evans (R., Rio Grande) proposed putting another constitutional amendment on the ballot that would place all the casinos on hold while the state conducts competitive bidding to determine who would run them and how much they'd be willing to pay to do so.

He would need three-fifths of his colleagues to agree - 60 of 99 members in the House and 20 of 33 in the Senate - to put the question to voters.

Mr. Evans also wants to raise the tax rate on casino gross revenue from the 33 percent approved in Tuesday's vote to 60 percent and to divert the funds from the counties, schools, and cities that would benefit under Issue 3 to the state for education.

"The citizens of Ohio made it clear that they want casinos in the state," Mr. Evans said. "During a time of economic duress, companies outside of the state of Ohio gave our citizens only one option, a very bad option. This constitutional amendment will correct some of its inequities."

Gov. Ted Strickland, who opposed Issue 3 and instead championed an ill-fated plan to place slot machines at racetracks, did not jump on the bandwagon.

"I believe in elections, and elections have consequences," the governor said.

"Less than 24 hours ago, people by a sizable majority endorsed this ballot initiative. What I want to do is work with the legislature to make sure any implementing legislation is written in such a way that the people of Ohio are protected as much as they can possibly be," he said.

"In my judgment, you do not choose less than 24 hours after the polls close to contemplate any action that would undo what voters just supported," Mr. Strickland said.

Lawmakers and the governor must pass enabling legislation that would essentially write between the lines of the constitutional amendment, spelling out, for instance, how the new casino gambling regulatory panel created by Issue 3 would operate.

The legislation, however, cannot directly contradict the amendment. Only another voter-approved constitutional amendment can do that.

Fifty-seven of Ohio's 88 counties rejected Issue 3.

In northwest Ohio, Ottawa, Erie, Huron, Seneca, Putnam, and Allen counties joined Lucas in support of the ballot issue.

Lucas voters largely matched the state as a whole with 53 percent of its electorate apparently liking the idea.

Cuyahoga and Hamilton counties, where two of the casinos would be built, supported it, too. Franklin County opposed Issue 3, but Columbus will have to accept a casino anyway.

While Penn, which also owns Toledo's Raceway Park, would develop the Toledo and Columbus sites, its Issue 3 partner, Cleveland Cavaliers majority owner Dan Gilbert, would own the Cincinnati and Cleveland sites.

They have estimated that the casinos would create a total of 19,000 temporary construction jobs and 15,000 permanent casino jobs.

Of the permanent jobs, 1,200 have been promised to Toledo.

"We can't afford to be giving billion-dollar paychecks to the state of Michigan and the state of Indiana," said Mr. Finkbeiner, Toledo's lame-duck mayor, who was an ardent backer of casino gambling in Toledo and Ohio.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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