Ohio Supreme Court Reviews Case Filed by LetOhioVote Against Gov. Stricklands Slots Plan
The Ohio state Supreme Court heard arguments on September 2nd, 2009 in a lawsuit challenging Governor Strickland's and the state legislature's power to allow slot machine gaming as a brand new gaming option for the Ohio Lottery. LetOhioVote.org, a recently formed conservative organization, sued Ohio in July after Governor Ted Strickland used an executive order to allow slot machines in the state and the legislature helped out by placing an enabling language in the state budget.
Lawyers for LetOhioVote.org said that Gov. Strickland and the legislature essential modified state gambling rules on their own and without placing a referendum before state voters as legally needed. Ohio officials argues that the slot machines are just another game under the Ohio Lottery and expansion of lottery gaming does not need a referendum because earnings from slot machines will be allocated for K-12 education, as the law requires of lottery earnings.
The timing of the lawsuit is critical. The state of Ohio wants to get the slot machine process moving now. The plan would permit up to 17,500 slot machines at Ohio's 7 horse racing tracks. Track owners favor the slots plan but are still debating the rules that would govern slot machine game play.
Ohio is requiring a $65 million licensing cost from each racing track owner, with the first $15 million payment due in 2 weeks. But some racing track owners are hesitant of paying that amount of money while it is possible that the state Supreme Court could rule against the state and cancel the whole gaming operation.
Strickland is counting on slot machines proceeds to provide $933 million to state earnings between now and June 2011. Strickland used that figure to help balance Ohio's budget. If a majority of the state Supreme Court's 7 justices rule against the slots plan, the state's budget will be thrown into disarray. Supporters of LetOhioVote will not say who is supporting their legal drive to derail the governor's plan.
The state attempted this week to file an affidavit from state Senator Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, who stated that he had a phone conversation with one of the principals behind LetOhioVote who told him that Penn National Gaming was paying to derail the slots program. But the court would not allow the additional evidence to be filed for the lawsuit. Penn National and Dan Gilbert, the majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, are supporting a rival constitutional change that will be on the November 3rd, 2009 ballot.
With voter approval, that measure would permit four casino facilities to be constructed in the state of Ohio-in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo. Penn National, which owns a horse racing track in Toledo that would be eligible to install slot machines under the governor's plan issued a statement on September 1st, 2009 denying that it is supporting the LetOhioVote effort.