Lawyers spar in challenge to racetrack slots
A court heard competing arguments Thursday on whether an anti-gambling group should be allowed to go forward with its challenge to Gov. John Kasich’s decision authorizing slotslike video lottery terminals at Ohio’s seven horse tracks.
The Ohio Roundtable and nine individual plaintiffs were denied legal standing in May to bring the lawsuit, which alleges Kasich’s decision to go forward with racinos is unconstitutional because expansions of the state lottery must be approved by voters. State lawmakers later changed state law to reflect terms of the deal cut by Kasich.
Roundtable lawyer Tom Connors told the 10th District Court of Appeals in Columbus that the lower court decision should be reversed and the group should be allowed to make its case. He said they represent the interests of Ohioans who will be harmed by expanded gambling.
Connors said the state has suggested in the case that once Ohio got legal gambling — in the form of a 2009 amendment authorizing casinos in four Ohio cities — that constitutional limits on other forms of gambling should just be ignored.
“Here, the argument is, ‘Hey, you’ve already got gambling going on. Therefore, even if we stop the unconstitutional gambling you’re not going to get redress for your injury, because you’ve already got some injury from constitutional gambling,”’ Connors said. “I would simply argue that basic logic can broach that argument.”
After Ohio voters approved construction of casinos in Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo and Cincinnati in 2009, Kasich worked out an agreement worth $150 million to the state that added VLTs to the state lottery and allowed racetrack video lottery operations to go forward. The money was promised by two casino operators in exchange for the ability to relocate their racetracks to new cities so that racinos and casinos wouldn’t compete.
As the legal challenge has inched forward, one racino has already opened in the state — at Scioto Downs in Columbus — and the six others are in various stages of licensing and construction.
Assistant Attorney General Aaron Epstein told the three-judge panel that the Roundtable couldn’t show how racetrack slots would harm Ohioans any differently than casinos, which are now legal.
“The appellants are arguing that there’s a difference between constitutional gambling and unconstitutional gambling and I have to confess, I don’t understand that concept at all,” he told the court. “To me, that’s a nonsense argument.”
Epstein further argued, “They’ve never been able to explain how a recovering gambler would be adversely affected by a video lottery terminal that’s installed based upon a flawed interpretation of the Constitution in a way that’s different from how he would be harmed by a terminal that’s installed somewhere else based upon a proper interpretation of the Constitution.”
The fact the $150 million in relocation fees is going to the state’s general fund and not to the lottery is another point of contention with the Roundtable. They point to a requirement that a portion of lottery proceeds go to education. They say their suit represents the interest of schoolchildren and parents harmed by that decision, another argument for trying to gain standing to sue.
Connors said if the court rules that his group doesn’t have standing in the case, it will be a blow to citizens seeking to defend their constitutional rights.
“You will limit the ability of anyone to complain about exceeding the limits of constitutional gambling,” he said.
A ruling is expected in the next few months.