Casino gambling Issue 3 on track to win, poll says

By David Skolnick

Northeast Ohioans are among its strongest supporters.

YOUNGSTOWN — Registered voters in Northeast Ohio strongly favor slot machines at horse racetracks and a constitutional amendment to build four gambling casinos in the state, according to an Ohio Newspaper Poll.

Northeast Ohio is second only to the southwest part of the state in geographical regions with the strongest support for both gambling initiatives, according to the poll.

“This area of Ohio has seen gambling money leave the state” and go to Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort in Chester, W.Va., said state Rep. Linda Bolon of Columbiana, D-1st. “When I talk to people about gambling initiatives, they want it put in places where there’s already gambling,” the seven horse racetracks in Ohio.

“Ohioans are going to gamble, and the state isn’t getting any of that revenue,” said state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Canfield, D-33rd. “People are realizing this, and that’s why they support legalized gambling in Ohio.”

The Ohio News Organization — a cooperative of the state’s eight largest daily newspapers, including The Vindicator — commissioned the poll.

The Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati, which also runs the Ohio Poll, surveyed 713 registered Ohio voters Sept. 16 to Tuesday by telephone on gambling issues. The poll’s margin of error is 3.7 percent.

Ohio voters have rejected four previous attempts since 1990 to legalize gambling in the state.

“After four times on the ballot, it looks like Ohioans are ready for gambling,” said state Rep. Sandra Stabile Harwood of Niles, D-65th. “People haven’t seen the doom and gloom predicted by some about gambling in other states. Also, we’re in a real bind financially. It’s in line with the economic times we live in.”

The Ohio Newspaper Poll shows 59 percent in support of a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to permit casinos in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and Toledo with 38 percent opposed.

In Northeast Ohio, the proposal has 63 percent support and 33 percent opposition.

The poll also shows registered Ohio voters favor putting video slot machines at the state’s horse racing tracks, 62 percent to 33 percent.

In Northeast Ohio, the support is greater, 65 percent to 31 percent.

With the state budget facing a deficit of close to $1 billion, the General Assembly and Gov. Ted Strickland agreed to legalize 17,500 video slot machines to balance the budget.

But the Ohio Supreme Court ruled last Monday that state voters must vote on the proposal to legalize slot machines.

The state Legislature and Strickland plan to discuss options to get slots to the racetracks, local legislator said.

“I’m disappointed with the Supreme Court decision because it was a way to solve the state’s financial issues,” Bolon said.

State Rep. Ronald V. Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th, said he’s surprised by the poll numbers because of the past ballot failures of other gambling initiatives.

“People are rethinking this issue because of the economic situation we’re in,” he said. “Maybe practicality has set in with Ohio residents. The results indicate people in Ohio have had a change of heart with gambling.”

Local legislators, who voted for slots at the racetrack, aren’t supportive of the constitutional amendment.

“I wish it wouldn’t have been so narrow” to restrict it to four cities, Gerberry said. “I wish it had options for other communities to have casinos.”

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