September 17, 2014

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Poker champ Lyle Berman stakes claim in Ohio casinos

COLUMBUS — The casino developer and poker champion who had a failed bid for an Ohio slots parlor in 2008 has staked a claim to all four Ohio casinos voters approved Tuesday.

Lakes Entertainment Inc. chairman Lyle Berman cut the deal just days before the election Oct. 29, according to a Wednesday filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Under the terms of the deal, Lakes agreed to fund 10 percent of the cost of the ballot initiative — which neared $35 million — borne by both Penn Ventures and Rock Ohio Ventures, the development businesses of Penn National Gaming Inc. and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. In exchange, Lakes has the option, but not the obligation, to a 10 percent share in each casino.

The filing said Lakes has already made an initial payment of $1.9 million to Penn Ventures, which is developing the Columbus and Toledo sites, and $2.4 million to Rock Ohio, which is developing the Cleveland and Cincinnati casinos.

Allegations of Berman’s involvement were made by the anti-casino TruthPAC early in October. They were denied at the time by the pro-casino Ohio Jobs & Growth Committee.

Bob Tenenbaum, a spokesman for the pro-casino ballot campaign, said the deal was struck after that time.

“At the time this was raised as a campaign issue, which was Oct. 6, Berman had no role in any of this,” Tenenbaum said. “He never became involved in the campaign, but he did reach out to both Penn National and Rock Ohio Ventures in the last week of the campaign and asked if he could become involved.”

A message was left with Berman seeking comment.