COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio legislators, working past the witching hour deadline for hammering out casino gambling rules as prescribed in the constitutional amendment voters approved last year in November, sealed the deal early Friday morning on the kind of entertainment Ohioans had previously said no to over the last 20 years, that will finally allow wagerers to place their bets and win big in the Buckeye State.
Now on the governor’s desk after the House (86-12) and Senate (20-12) passed it, the implementing legislation mandated by Issue 3 from last November and an accompanying bill (SB 181) that appropriated casino licensure fees for workforce training and the state’s co-op/internship program, sparked an immediate statement from Ohio Governor Ted Strickland that said the bill met his criteria for bringing the gaming industry to the state in four ways.
“Since Ohio voters approved four casinos in Ohio, I have sought legislation that would serve the following four objectives: to create a Casino Control Commission that operates with integrity and protects Ohioans by guaranteeing the fairness of casino gaming; to ensure Ohioans benefit from tax revenue generated by casinos; that introducing this industry to Ohio means good jobs for Ohioans using Ohio products; and to protect local control and decision making.”
Included in the bill is the creation of a new state commission to license and regulate the four casinos – one each in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati – approved 52-48 percent by voters last November. The members of the commission will be appointed by the governor with the Senate’s consent. Once installed, they will write more specific rules on the casino operations than was included in the bill. Liquor fees to be paid by the casinos and the smaller bars and restaurants associated with them were also addressed. A $1.5 million application fee for each casino license was included in the bill even though it wasn’t included in the constitutional amendment written by casino developers.
Fifty million in upfront license fees from each casino is to be paid to the state to fund local work force development programs. In their deliberations, legislators appropriated half of the $200 million total and split it between job-training programs in urban and rural areas and an existing private-public internship program. The rural money shall be divided evenly between Appalachian and non-Appalachian counties.
Strickland said he believes Ohio voters approved casinos now for one reason – to create jobs during the worst recession since the Great Depression. “We must now work to make sure that good-paying Ohio jobs are created,” he said, adding that including minorities in those job opportunities – which the casino bill did not specifically include – “is essential for the casinos to fully benefit the Ohio economy, and, as we move forward with the implementation of this legislation, I will work to ensure those opportunities are available.”
In his statement, Strickland said he appreciated the legislature’s inclusion of a $100 million appropriation from casino licensing fees for workforce training programs. “I look forward to carefully reviewing that bill in its entirety,” he said, adding that funding the co-op/internship program will “help keep talented young Ohioans right here in Ohio by connecting them with Ohio businesses and opportunities to learn the skills those businesses look for in the people they hire.”
New training programs, he said, to assist unemployed workers from Ohio’s urban centers and rural communities to get back to work, “will help accelerate Ohio’s recovery.”
Strickland, running for a second term this year, called for the creation of an urban workforce initiative and funding for the state’s co-op/internship program in his 2010 State of the State Address.
Bill sponsor Rep. Kenny Yuko (D – Richmond Heights) said he and the casinos are aware of diversity issues. “We know their commitment and goals, and they have a track record,” he said in a published report. “We see no reason they would change their approach now,” he told The Toledo Blade.
A thorn in the side of casino boosters has been The Ohio Roundtable, a group that opposed Issue 3 and ballot issues like it that came before. Melanie Elsey, legislative director for the Roundtable, said that without the use of electronic cards to track what gamblers spend and take in, there will be no way to know for sure if casinos are paying their required taxes if the state has no way to track gross revenues for casinos. “That requires some kind of electronic accounting of what is happening inside those facilities every single day,” she told Jim Provance of the Blade.
Click ‘Subscribe’ above to have the next Columbus Government Examiner column delivered to you via email. Read more stories on people, politics and government in Ohio here, or on Facebook or Twitter. Send news or tips to [email protected]