A pastor asked how gambling could help the Valley's corruption struggle.
WARREN -- Mahoning Valley legislators and local officials are betting they can overcome top-level state opposition to a $125 million to $250 million gambling resort slated for Lordstown.
They and the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma aim to draw to Ohio the casino resort dollars now going to or planned for such nearby states as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana, West Virginia and Illinois.
"Clearly, Pennsylvania is gearing up in 2006 with 14 locations, and their idea is they want to draw the money out of Ohio," warned Terry Casey, a Columbus consultant representing the tribe. "If Ohio waits too long after Pennsylvania opens up [and] they build their facilities and customer loyalties ... it could be too late."
Trumbull County commissioners, Lordstown Mayor Michael Chaffee and representatives of the tribe and developer Capital 1 Inc. announced Friday options by the tribe and developer to buy property in Trumbull and Mahoning counties.
"It was quite a secret, wasn't it?" Chaffee joked, referring to the volume of news coverage before the announcement.
Also on hand were Mahoning County Commissioner David Ludt; state Sen. Robert Hagan of Youngstown, D-33rd; state Rep. Sandra Stabile Harwood, D-65th; representatives of U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-17th, and state Rep. Randy Law, R-64th; and a host of labor group representatives.
The 137 acres are on two parcels northeast of the Ohio Turnpike, between Exit 216 and state Route 45.
The site is nearly a half mile of highway frontage on land owned by the Henn family (BHGH Properties LLC). Most of the property is in Lordstown, but roughly 30 acres are in Jackson Township in Mahoning County.
Planned within 21/2 years are a casino and related facilities near the General Motors plant. Once completed, between 2,500 and 3,500 people are expected to be employed in service and management jobs.
It will take time to design the resort, do market research and then build. A temporary facility is an option "to improve the revenue flow," Casey noted.
Casey said jobs would pay $30,000 to $32,000 a year. What the tribe paid for options on the land and what the final sale price would be were not disclosed. The land is zoned industrial and would allow a wide range of uses.
"We loved the sound of the community. The sound of the name 'Lordstown' -- that made a big impact with us," said Betty Watson of National Capital 1 and a tribe member. She spoke of potential upscale lodging, dining and shopping.
Chaffee said the property is "perfect" because of direct access from the turnpike and Interstate 76, and the four-lane roads that were built to handle GM traffic. He also said this resort venture is "different than anything we have tried before" in the Mahoning Valley to spur economic rebirth, such as building blimps and sports cars. The tribe requested no up-front local money, he said.
He noted the resort's employment figures mirror those of the Youngstown Air Reserve Station, which Valley leaders are working to save from closing.
Ironically the tribe had not originally thought of this area until contacted about the site, Casey said, crediting the efforts of Trumbull Commissioner James Tsagaris and Administrator Tony Carson. "The good news is Trumbull County was smart enough to call early," he said.
The next step, Casey explained, is to put together a "gambling summit" to involve the Ohio Legislature and gaming interests. Stabile Harwood said the local delegation would spearhead efforts to win project approval by the governor and general assembly.
"There's many hurdles, but there's many options, too," Casey conceded when asked if the tribe would battle in court to establish casino gambling in the state.
Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro, who opposes expansion of gambling, said Indian casinos very likely will not be established in Ohio as long as the state does not permit Class 3 gambling. A constitutional amendment to allow full-service casino gambling or an expansion of the state lottery with slot machines in horse-racing tracks are the only avenues available to proponents.
State Auditor Betty Montgomery also opposes expansion of gambling. She and Petro are Republicans who are seeking the party's nomination for governor in 2006.
One of the ways the tribe is examining in negotiating a financial pact with Ohio is to attempt to re-establish central and southern Ohio as its ancestral homeland, placing land in trust with the U.S. Department of Interior. That could allow a Class 2 operation for bingo and slots.
"That's one of the options. That's not our first choice," Casey said. "We don't think that's the best facility, the best number of jobs."
John Temple, senior pastor of North Mar Church in Warren, noted that the Valley has struggled with corruption scandals and asked how gambling could possibly be any help.
Casey said the tribe is happy to meet with religious leaders, isn't forcing anyone to gamble, would manage its operation honestly, and could contribute some money to mitigate any social costs.
Tsagaris said commissioners understand many families don't want a casino, but he said many families are without jobs or insurance and feel abandoned by state and federal governments. "The level of suffering here is intolerable," he said.
An intergovernmental agreement is being worked on for local revenue sharing of about $4 million a year from the casino development. The pact would identify responsibilities for both parties regarding the casino operation and funds that both the village and the county would receive.
The money would be generated by 2 percent of the casino's revenue that would be placed in a fund controlled by a committee to include one representative each from the county, Lordstown and the tribe.
Money in the fund would be used for schools, charities and infrastructure: roads and utilities around the casino. Lordstown also would get about $425,000 annually in half-percent income tax from the jobs created.