Ohio Officials Reiterates Position on Slots Machine Issue Before Court
The lawyer for Governor Ted Strickland told the Ohio state Supreme Court on September 1st, 2009 that voters cannot change Governor Ted Strickland's plan for the installation of 17,500 slot machines at state racing tracks through a referendum because slot machine earnings was included in the Ohio budget.
Ohio Solicitor Benjamin C. Mizer told the Supreme Court justices that the provision in the constitution of Ohio that forbids votes on "appropriations for current expenses of the government" blocks critics of Gov. Strickland's slots-at-racing tracks plan from placing the issue in the referendum next year. In June 2009, Strickland changed his position on gaming and ordered the state Lottery to offer slot machines, officially called video lottery terminals at the state's seven racing tracks.
The machines are expected to produce $933 million during the next 2 years and were an important part of Gov. Strickland's strategy to solve the budget deficit. Mizer said that means that critics cannot challenge the plan at the polls. He said that the video lottery terminal provisions are firmly linked to a $2.3 billion appropriation to state schools. The Ohio Constitution requires all lottery earnings to go to state public education.
Gov. Strickland has stated that while slot machine earnings will be allocated in the education fund, money will also be taken out of that fund to balance the state budget. Three conservatives, including a former Ohio legislator, went to court to try to force a vote on the slots plan. LetOhioVote.org has stated that voters dismissed plans to expand gaming in Ohio 4 times since 1990, including a 2006 proposal for slot machine installment at racing tracks.
The administration of Gov. Strickland contends that LetOhioVote.org is only a front for rival gaming interests in Ohio including Penn National Gaming Incorporation, which has its own ballot referendum this November 2009 for casino facilities in Ohio's four biggest cities. LetOhioVote.org denies the accusation.
The Ohio Roundtable also plans to sue Gov. Strickland and the state lottery over the slots plan. LetOhioVote.org lawyer Michael A. Carvin stated that Gov. Strickland is trying to hide a substantive policy decision as an appropriation to thwart critics. Carvin said that under the state's logic, Gov. Strickland and the legislators could allow dog fighting and avoid a vote by attaching a licensing cost. Justice Judith Lanzinger appeared to agree with that argument, noting that the dismissal of the 2006 slots-at-racing tracks ballot referendum shows the view of Ohio residents about gaming expansion.
But Justice Terrence O'Donnell said that Gov. Strickland was within his rights to expand the state lottery's offerings to include slot machines. The lawyers for LetOhioVote.org also criticized Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner's refusal to accept the paperwork from the group to start a referendum process.
Even if the state Supreme Court rules in favor of LetOhioVote.org, Strickland could still proceed with his plans for the machines. He has stated that he had power to order the Ohio Lottery to run the slot machines but sought legislative approval for additional legal protection.