Will Ohio Voters Learn the Pennsylvania Lesson?

November 2, 2009 | No comments | Posted in Uncategorized | Tags:

With Issue 3 on the November 3 ballot, Ohio voters will get to vote — for the fifth time — on whether they want Las Vegas-style casinos to invade their state. They should consider themselves lucky. We in Pennsylvania never got to vote on this issue.

In Pennsylvania, the decision to permit casino gambling was decided for the people, not by the people.

Now, Pennsylvania is on a fast track to legalize table games (blackjack, craps, and roulette) at its slot-machine casinos. The one-sided legislative hearings were more like the presentation of a wish list as lawmakers dutifully asked casino executives what tax rate and license fee they would like to be charged. Casino opponents were frequently denied a spot on the agenda.

As in 2004, lawmakers offered amendments on the floor of the state House of Representatives to require a vote of the people before gambling could be expanded. Those attempts failed. Why? Thanks to the power and influence (read: spending) of the casino lobby, a deal had already been struck, and nothing would be allowed to stand in the way of the deal.

Quite simply, Ohio voters will have an opportunity that has been denied to Pennsylvanians. Just last year, the people of Ohio rejected casino gambling by a two-to-one margin. With their “no” vote in November, Ohioans can again send the cash-rich casino lobby packing and looking for another state to exploit.

Ohio won’t likely get the promised payoff because it won’t draw many people from neighboring states. Why? Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Michigan and Indiana already have casinos, and if Ohio legalizes them you can expect the Kentucky domino to fall shortly thereafter. As a result, Ohio will be simply luring its own citizens in as victims, not attracting money from out of state. Just look at the new Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh: Even with the potential of attracting nearby Ohioans, Rivers is performing at just 50 percent of projected revenues.

Pennsylvania’s casino law has failed to deliver on its soaring promises. Gambling’s first five years in Pennsylvania have been an embarrassment for residents and state officials. Instead of providing significant property tax relief — the carrot dangled before legislators and the public — it instead created a pattern of questionable actions by its overseers. The flaws in the legislation were pointed out before its hasty passage but were ignored, leaving taxpayers, local community officials and some legislators, with what amounts to big-time “buyer’s remorse.”

In Pennsylvania, all that’s left to seal the deal this time around for table games is for a small group of legislators and the governor to decide on a license fee and tax rate that the casinos “could live with.”

I hope they don’t let that happen in Ohio. On November 3, Ohio voters would be wise to get out and vote “No” on Issue 3.  I and thousands of Pennsylvanians wish we had that chance.

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