Issue 3, the constitutional amendment that authorizes four casinos in Ohio’s largest cities-Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo-passed narrowly last month, 53 percent to 47 percent. Voter turnout was 40 percent and over 3 million votes were cast.
It won by large majorities in Cleveland and Cincinnati, a smaller majority in Toledo, and didn’t pass in Franklin County, which includes Columbus. It also failed to pass in many rural counties.
It took five elections over 20 years for gaming proponents to overcome the basic conservative nature of this Bible Belt state. What did it was the economy and the state’s 10 percent unemployment, among the highest in the country.
Now, political leaders who were bypassed by the process must decide if they will accept being sidelined, or if they will try to take control legislatively or challenge Issue 3 in court.
The immediate winners are Penn National Gaming and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, principals of Ohio Jobs & Growth Committee, who will each get the right to own and operate two casinos. If the casinos create the promised 40,000 jobs, those potential employees are also winners. Lakes Entertainment has the rights to buy 10 percent of the four casinos in return for paying a 10th of the costs for the initiative.
If building begins late next year, the casinos could be operating by 2012, say Penn and Gilbert. Each will be allowed up to 5,000 slot machines. A minimum investment of $250 million is required for each casino.
The immediate loser is MTR Gaming Inc., which largely funded the opposition, and which owns racinos in Pennsylvania and West Virginia that will probably be affected once the four casinos are operational.
Another loser is Governor Ted Strickland, although he didn’t campaign strenuously against Issue 3. Earlier this year his executive order set in motion a plan to deploy 17,500 slots in the state’s racetracks to raise nearly $900 million to plug a shortfall in the state budget. That plan was sidetracked for at least a year by a state Supreme Court decision, but the election results probably put the final stake in its heart.