Thursday, October 16, 2003

Senate: Let voters decide on video slot machines

By Jim Siegel
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - State Sen. Lou Blessing said Wednesday's Senate approval of sending the video slot machine issue to the ballot was a long time coming.

But for the long-time sponsor of slot machine legislation, and fellow supporters of increased gambling in Ohio, the journey is far from over.

The Senate voted 24-9 to place on the March ballot the issue of whether video slot machines should be placed at Ohio's seven racetracks.

It voted 21-12 on a separate measure spelling out that profits would be used to fund a pair of scholarship programs helping nearly 25,000 high school seniors each year.

The bill now heads to the House, where Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, has said he opposes spending gambling money on new government programs.

Instead, he wants the money to help reduce the 1-cent sales tax increase enacted July 1.

Blessing, R-Cincinnati, along with Sen. Kevin Coughlin, R-Cuyahoga Falls, will try to convince him otherwise. "We can talk to him about the benefit of the scholarship programs," Blessing said"There is middle ground here."

Blessing said he is open to the idea of using slot machine money to possibly end the 1-cent sales tax increase before July 1, 2005 - the date it's scheduled to expire. But after that date, he wants all profits to fund scholarships as laid out by the Senate proposal.

Once fully implemented in fiscal year 2006, slots are expected to bring in $370 million to $740 million in profits per year.

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