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YOUNGSTOWN Group wants state to legalize a casino



Published: Thu, September 6, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Youngstown's state senator said he has no interest in sponsoring legislation to legalize casino gambling in the city.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Supporters of a gambling casino in Youngstown are taking their case to the state Legislature.

Patrick Mackondy, coordinator of the Casinos for Youngstown Committee, said his group has been in contact with state officials and is hoping to persuade local state legislators to sponsor a bill that would legalize a gambling casino in Youngstown.

The response has not been promising, however.

Mackondy said he received a letter from Richard Finan of Cincinnati, R-7th, state Senate president, saying there is not enough support for the proposal among legislators, and the casino organization should consider organizing a statewide referendum vote instead.

Won't sponsor bill: State Sen. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-33rd, said he would not sponsor a bill for a casino in his hometown even though he had previously supported two state gambling initiatives that failed -- putting a casino in Lorain in 1990 and legalizing riverboat gambling in 1996.

"The people have spoken twice against gambling," he said. "Unless I'm convinced that the people have changed their minds, they've already told me not to vote for it. I won't vote for it unless they can show me there is support for it.

"I'm not foolish on an issue like this. People said they didn't want this. The support is not there."

Mackondy of Beaver Township said his group has been in contact with an undisclosed major casino corporation, headquartered in Las Vegas, which is interested in building a $600 million to $1 billion casino/hotel complex that would employ at least 5,000 people in downtown Youngstown.

One cannot be built in Youngstown, however, because casinos are illegal under state law.

Options: Mackondy's group has two options: persuade the Legislature to change state law to permit a casino only in Youngstown, which Mackondy said is a major challenge, or put the proposal up for a statewide referendum vote, which Mackondy said is the group's last resort.

The referendum is unattractive because it will cost between $3 million and $6 million to get it on the ballot and properly promote it, Mackondy said.

Under state law, the referendum would need valid signatures from at least 335,421 voters in Ohio -- 10 percent of those who voted in the 1998 gubernatorial election -- from at least 44 of the state's 88 counties and no more than 5 percent of the necessary amount from any one county.

A casino would bring significant economic development to Youngstown, which for years has had one of the highest unemployment rates among Ohio's larger cities, Mackondy said.

skolnick@vindy.com




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