Has it only been a decade since gambling interests last tried to convince Ohioans that "gaming" -- the industry's sanitized word for separating a mark from his money - was the key to economic development?
It seems like another era. The story line in 1996 was that riverboat casinos would bring prosperity to any town lucky enough to have one tied to a dock and would revitalize education in the state. All the voters had to do was amend the Ohio Constitution to allow gambling -- and, by the way, to require the General Assembly to do whatever might become necessary to keep the gambling industry in Ohio competitive with other states. That little bit of overreaching might have contributed to the 62 percent to 38 percent thumping voters gave the issue.
In 2006, the riverboats are out of the picture. Today, Ohio's Mavericks want to set up shop at the state's seven horse racing tracks and two sites in downtown Cleveland. Initially, there would be as many as 31,500 one-armed bandits spread among the nine sites. But after several years, Cuyahoga County residents could vote to convert the sites in their county into casinos with roulette, card games and dice.
If that happens, it won't be long before the race track owners demand that they be given the same opportunity to expand -- just as a matter of fairness. Everyone knows that a gambling house is all about being fair (the first rule of fairness being that the house never loses).
We know that the backers of this amendment understand this principle because they are taking no chances on who gets a casino. The constitutional amendment assures a gambling monopoly to the seven present track owners and to the owners of two specific pieces of property in Cleveland owned by -- surprise! -- backers of the amendment.
Like their predecessors of a decade ago, this amendment's backers might also be overreaching.
Imagine a movement to legalize marijuana that took the form of a constitutional amendment. And imagine the amendment specified that marijuana could only be sold in seven of the state's most exclusive nightclubs and two sites in Cleveland owned by backers of the amendment. Oh, and if the voters in Cuyahoga County approve, those sites could start selling harder drugs in a few years.
People would clearly see that amending the Ohio Constitution so that a select group of investors could profit through the sale of possibly addictive substances would constitute a flawed social contract. Pushing addictive behavior in the name of subsidizing college tuition should get no more respect.
The constitution must not be amended so that a handful of slot machine parlor/casino owners are guaranteed 55 percent of the take while the other 45 percent is divided among a scholarship fund, local government, the race tracks and a program for gambling addicts.
That the backers of this get-rich-quick scheme would try to sell it under the misnomer "Learn and Earn" is an insult to the intelligence of Ohio voters.
Teach them a lesson. Vote no on Issue 3.