By Gregory Korte
Enquirer staff writer
State Rep. Tyrone K. Yates heard the mayor's call for casino gambling on the riverfront Wednesday, and responded within hours by introducing a state constitutional amendment to make it happen.
Yates' proposal would add a single sentence to the state's constitution: "The General Assembly may authorize and regulate the operation of one riverboat gambling franchise in each of the cities of Cincinnati and Cleveland."
He was responding to Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken's call for the state legislature to revisit casino gambling as Ohioans spend $3 billion a year at out-of-state casinos. Luken hopes the tourism draw of a casino - not to mention tax revenues it would bring - can boost Cincinnati's downtown economy.
With the General Assembly in summer recess, it's doubtful the Yates amendment will get on the fast track. It will likely take a back seat to a bill by state Rep. William Seitz, R-Green Township, to allow video lottery terminals in the state's horse racing tracks.
But Yates said the perception of legal gaming in Ohio is slowly shifting, as the images of gangster-run casinos yield to more modern entertainment venues. He hopes his proposal will at least warrant hearings to investigate long-term implications of casino gambling.
Yates, a freshman Democrat, represents Cincinnati's northeastern neighborhoods and the suburbs of Norwood, St. Bernard, Deer Park, Silverton, Golf Manor and Elmwood Place.
He said he had the amendment drafted months ago and was waiting for the right time to introduce it. "I wanted to get some signal from some local official of some leadership stature that the public might be ready for it," he said. "That happened yesterday."
The last time voters saw a constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling, was 1996. That measure failed, 62 percent to 38 percent.
Yates was on Cincinnati City Council at the time, and voted with his unanimous colleagues to oppose casino gambling. He said he's changed his mind.
"Because I now stand on a higher hill, I can see farther," said Yates. "What we did not have at the time was the extensive economic drain that gambling has been to Ohio in the past decade. It's too big for Cincinnati to sit as an island in the middle of this commerce and not get the benefit of it."
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