August 22, 2014

Elyria
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Two Ohio tracks pony up for slots

COLUMBUS  — Ohio’s seven horse-racing tracks have met an application deadline for video slot machines, but only two have submitted $13 million initial payments for gambling licenses.

Raceway Park in Toledo and Northfield Park near Cleveland paid on time Tuesday. The other five tracks face late fees of $100,000 per day, according to the Ohio Lottery Commission.

Lottery officials said the remaining tracks still intend to make their first installments toward the $65 million licenses, though legal challenges have made lining up investors difficult.

The lottery intends to have slots operating at tracks by May.

Three separate lawsuits have been filed against Gov. Ted Strickland’s plan to allow racetrack slots to help beef up the state budget. For the two-year budget that started July 1, the state is banking on generating $933 million from the license fees and half of the revenue from 17,500 slot machines.

Critics said the missed deadline, combined with legal challenges and other issues, adds to concerns about the state’s decision and ability to use the slots to raise the needed revenue.

“We’re off to a very shaky start with this thing,” said state Rep. Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster, the top minority member of the House Finance Committee and part of a group challenging the slots proposal in court.

A poll released Tuesday shows that 60 percent of Ohio voters support the decision to install slot machines at racetracks, with 34 percent opposed. The Quinnipiac University telephone survey of 1,074 Ohio voters was taken between Sept. 10 and 13. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Dan Gilbert, majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, is pushing a ballot issue that would sanction the construction of casinos in four Ohio cities. He doesn’t think the racetrack slot machines will hurt the casino business.

“I don’t consider it a threat to a full-blown Las Vegas-style gaming operation in the core of downtown,” Gilbert said.