Ohio Looks To Video Poker To Prop Up School Budgets
Ohio lawmakers were at a standstill on how to generate budget funds for K-12 education across the state. That is, until a recent proposition to allow the state’s racetracks to include video poker terminals emerged In the House.
Officials toyed with the idea, calling for a full analysis of the drawbacks and benefits. The findings were rather positive, revealing that the move to further redefine racetracks as what lawmakers have called “racinos” could generate as much as $12.5 million annually for state schools. Racetracks have already received the go-ahead to install slots parlors and video lottery terminals in recent years and few see the addition of Video Poker terminals as an overstep.
The state is currently attempting to pass a two-year budget plan that has fallen $800 million short in a $66.9 billion proposal destined for the desk of Governor John Kasich. The plan has undergone hundreds of amendments surrounding state budget talks and the final draft must be submitted to the governor’s office by the end of the fiscal year, June 30th, if it’s to be considered for passage into law.
The proposed $12.5 million Video Poker tax revenues could generate would be added to the already allotted $80 million for Ohio schools disbursement. That sum has previously been criticized as too small for state institutions and officials expect many schools will still experience cutbacks as a result.
The horse racing industry in Ohio is in favor of the change, as the addition of Video Poker terminals would increase revenues by an anticipated $2.5 million annually. Track owners would be allowed to install as many as 2,500 machines on site according to House Bill 49.
Opposition of Expansion
The main opponents of the measure have been from various community organizations against casino gambling. Cincinnati-based group Citizens for Community Values (CCV) has been particularly vocal on the issue, warning state speaker Cliff Rosenberger to clip the bill from the final budget proposal scheduled in the House for later this week or face legal action.
The group’s leader, Aaron Baer accused authors of the House Bill 49 of trying to deceive constituents by not fully disclosing the details of the bill to the community. According to local newspaper The Toledo Blade, Baer stated that gambling expansion legislation had been denied by voters four times prior to this latest iteration of expanding operations within the state’s already established racetracks. As a result, the CCV leader calls the proposed amendment an unethical undertaking that may also be considered unconstitutional according to the voter approved casino expansions amendment to the state’s constitution passed in 2009.
Baer was quoted by The Toledo blade with harsh words for lawmakers, stating,
“Let’s be clear, by putting this significant expansion of gambling into the budget, some lawmakers are attempting to sneak one by their constituents.” He went on to reference the voters’ prior answer to the question of expanded gambling throughout the state, saying “The voters defeated the expansion of gambling four times and ultimately only approved it on a limited basis.”
The state lottery commission, which would be charged with overseeing the expanded gaming operations and associated financial duties released a statement to the effect that the commission had not been involved in the draft of the bill and had not requested the Video Poker provision. Should the bill be passed into law, the commission would benefit with near $9 million in annual revenue derived from operations. A spokesman for the commission, Danielle Frizzi-Babb, went on to argue that Baer’s statements regarding the constitutionality of the amendment were false and the actions by lawmakers had not circumvented voter involvement. The spokesman claimed the provision would in fact fall under the state lottery extensions that voters approved back in 1973.
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