By Bertram de Souza
From the anti-gambling puritans, to the group leading the charge against State Issue 3, to some residents of the Mahoning Valley, the hypocrisy surrounding the constitutional amendment to permit full-service casinos in Ohio is palpable. But such hypocrisy is not new — as evidenced by the four times the voters of Ohio have rejected the expansion of gambling in the midst of the ever-growing state lottery, horse racing and bingo.
It’s time for Ohioans to grow up. They should either approve state Issue 3 in the Nov. 3 general election — passage would permit the construction of casinos featuring slots and table games in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo — or they should defeat it and then take the next step: Move to ban all gambling in the state.
If gambling is as bad for society as the paragons of virtue contend it is, then it should be banned entirely. That means no state-run lottery with the numbers, Rolling Cash, Ten-O, Classic Lotto, Mega Millions and keno; no bingo, in churches or anywhere else; and no horse racing at the seven tracks licensed by the state.
Every time there has been an issue on the statewide ballot calling for the expansion of gambling, the coalition of churches, conservative grass-roots and political organizations and some politicians has led the charge for its defeat. The coalition is on a winning streak.
This year, with Issue 3 on the ballot, another aggressive campaign has been launched. And there’s every reason to believe the voters will again say no. That’s because there are other special interests that have risen up in opposition.
Leading the charge is TruthPac, which is being largely financed and directed by the very wealthy Jacobs family of Cleveland. The family operates a gaming and entertainment company that owns Mountaineer Race Track and Casino in West Virginia, Presque Isle Downs and Casino in Erie, Pa., and Scioto Downs horse-racing track in Franklin County.
Although TruthPac insists its opposition to the constitutional amendment is prompted by the fact that only four cities would be permitted to have casinos, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what this is really about: The Jacobs family protecting its financial interests.
Revealingly, the brains and money behind state Issue 3 is Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and founder of Quicken Loans. Gilbert has joined forces with Penn National Gaming Inc., in pushing the constitutional amendment. Their group, Ohio Jobs and Growth Committee, headed by Charlie Luken, former mayor of Cincinnati, has the support of all the major labor unions in Ohio.
Penn National owns a horse-racing track in Toledo and casinos and race tracks around the country.
But the hypocrisy surrounding the opposition to Issue 3 is no more evident than in the position being taken by some Mahoning Valley residents.
Leading the charge against the constitutional amendment is Atty. David Betras, chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party.
Betras has passionately railed against Gilbert et al for attempting to use the Constitution to benefit just four cities in the state. He has argued that the Mahoning Valley, in general, and the city of Youngstown, in particular, will not benefit in any significant way from the construction and subsequent operation of the casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo.
The Democratic Party chairman has put his political reputation on the line by suggesting that the people of the Mahoning Valley will not support state Issue 3 and it, therefore, will go down to defeat in Ohio.
But here’s the kicker: It doesn’t matter whether the Mahoning Valley votes yes or no, it will still receive more than $20 million a year from the revenue generated by the casinos if the issue passes statewide.
Betras bristles at the suggestion that the position he has taken is unprincipled because he isn’t willing to go so far as to urge leaders in the Valley to reject the dirty money from the casinos in the four cities.
As for the Mahoning Valley getting its own full-service casino, don’t bet on it. The Jacobs family will not rush to put its own constitutional amendment on the ballot to permit casinos to be built anywhere in the state.