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YOUNGSTOWN Could a casino be in the cards?



Published: Thu, July 26, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The city's law director and the state's attorney general said gambling is regulated by Ohio.

By PETER H. MILLIKEN

and DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITERS

YOUNGSTOWN -- Casino gambling promoters want to bring a $600 million casino and at least 5,000 jobs to the city, but the Ohio attorney general said their plan to get it here by changing the city charter would prove to be fruitless.

"The casino industry is probably near the very top of the service industry. I just think the service industry is not only this country's future, but, certainly, Youngstown, Ohio's future," said Patrick MacKondy of Beaver Township, coordinator of the Casinos for Youngstown Committee.

After being contacted by MacKondy two weeks ago, Councilman John R. Swierz, D-7th, wrote to Law Director Robert Bush, seeking an opinion on the legality of having casino gambling here.

Ballot measure: Swierz wrote that he thinks the city could get casino gambling approved here through passage of a municipal ballot initiative.

Bush said gambling is controlled by state law.

Bush is correct, said Joe Case, spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery. The planned casino is illegal under state law, and efforts to change the city charter to allow it in Youngstown would do nothing, Case said.

"A city charter cannot trump the Ohio Constitution, which is the fundamental document that dictates what is and what isn't allowed in a city charter," Case said. "State law prohibits gambling of any kind in Ohio except for charitable purposes or the state lottery. If city charters could override the state Constitution, you would have seen chartered cities all over the state attempting to do this already. But that loophole doesn't exist."

Committee members are among 500 people who have signed petitions supporting casino gambling here. The petitions will be taken before city council, said MacKondy, retired public relations director for The Tamarkin Co.

Some interest: MacKondy said he has contacted a development executive with a large Las Vegas-based casino corporation who is interested in developing a hotel/casino complex in Youngstown.

MacKondy said the executive, whom he declined to identify, likes Youngstown because of its central location and highway access.

The casino itself would be a nearly $602 million project, and if a 1,000-room hotel and retail shops were added, the project could grow to as high as $1 billion, MacKondy said. The combined complex would employ 5,000 people and create another 5,000 spinoff jobs and might be joined to the city's proposed convocation center, he added.

Ready for fight: Rev. Jay Alford, pastor of Highway Tabernacle in Austintown, who led opposition to a failed 1996 statewide ballot proposal for riverboat gambling, is set to fight again.

"The people who are most impacted on any of the gambling initiatives are the poor and underprivileged, who look for a way out -- a quick fix -- and it's not there," the Rev. Mr. Alford said.

"The casino industry is not looking for any breaks to come here," MacKondy said, adding that developers would seek no tax abatements or other incentives. The complex would generate taxes for roads, schools and other needs, he said.

"I don't see it coming here,'' said Councilman Artis Gillam, D-1st, whose ward includes the downtown district where the proposed convocation center would be built. He noted the defeat of the 1996 proposal and said he doesn't think the public supports legalized gambling.




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