Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Bruner announced Friday that MyOhioNow had raised enough signatures to keep a gambling referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot. At issue is an amendment to the Ohio constitution that would allow casinos to operate in the historically anti-gambling state.
MyOhioNow.com, a limited liability company owned by Ohio residents Rick Lertzman and Brad Pressman, submitted a total of 812, 978 signatures on Aug. 5, 480,003 of which have been verified by the state. This verified number neatly tops to 402,000 minimum required to put an issue on the Ohio ballot.
The referendum, called Issue 6, ran into rocky territory when MyOhioNow competitor Penn National Gaming filed a protest against it. The protest cited a Lake County Sheriff’s Dept. investigation into an Issue 6 supporter who admitted to signing blank forms before distributing them to fellow organizers. Less damning accusations also included one voter’s claim that MyOhioNow.com failed to file the necessary forms for a referendum.
Regardless of any wrongdoing, however, the state’s official signature tally included certified signatures in at least 77 of its 88 counties, giving Bruner no choice but to deny Penn National’s protest.
If passed, the amendment would allow Pressman and Lertzman, in cooperation with Michigan-based Lakes Entertainment, to build a sprawling 220 square-foot casino in Ohio’s southwest corridor. The planned attraction would house 5,000 slot machines, 100 gaming tables and 1,500 hotel rooms. It would be situated off Interstate 71 in Wilmington, Ohio.
According to a MyOhioNow commercial that showed a charter bus headed down the highway, packed with interstate tourists, “Our tax dollars are leaving the state at 65 miles per hour.”
The implication is that Ohio, which is bracketed by casino-friendly Pennsylvania, Michigan, Indiana and West Virginia, is leaking valuable tax revenue every time an Ohioan crosses a state border to gamble. Lertzman and Pressman say revising the state’s statutes—and allowing their casino in—would create an estimated 5,000 new jobs, each paying an average of $34,000 per year, and would pump much needed funds back into Ohio’s rustbelt tax base.
Penn National Gaming spokesman Eric Schippers has rebutted these claims saying that a go on Issue 6 would result in a monopoly for MyOhioNow.com’s casino. But according to Lertzman, “Penn National fears we will take away their business.”
“Our casino will be 40 miles away (from theirs), and we will attract the Ohioans who have been going across the boarder,” he said.
Penn National Gaming is owner and operator of the Argosy Casino in nearby Lawrence, Indiana.
No doubt, both sides will continue their match of words in the coming weeks. But whatever the case, whether Issue 6 will become law is now officially in the hands of Ohio’s voters.