Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Vote 'no' if you want slots at tracks

Bill's wording has Blackwell worried

By Shelley Davis
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - Are lawmakers trying to trick voters into saying yes to video slot machines? Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell thinks so.

Lawmakers in the Ohio House, faced with a huge budget deficit, decided to let voters choose how to balance the budget. They want them to vote in November on whether to raise taxes or legalize video slots at racetracks.

But when voters are asked whether Ohio should legalize gambling, they'll have to vote "no" if they want these machines, officially called "video lottery terminals" at Ohio's racetracks.

That's because the way the proposal is written, voters are asked if the state should be prohibited from operating electronic lottery devices at racetracks.

In a letter sent to Senate President Doug White, R-Manchester, on Monday, Blackwell said the wording is a double negative in logic and asked senators to make it less confusing. The Senate hasn't yet approved the House budget bill, so senators can still change the wording on the ballot.

The issue at hand is whether to allow video slot machines to operate in licensed racetracks, Blackwell said. He said if voters are in favor of video slots, they should be able to vote "yes," and if they are opposed, they should vote "no." But the proposed language coming out of the House is exactly the opposite, he said.

"I think the language is deceptive and misleading," Blackwell said. "When you have to vote 'no' on a prohibition to get 'yes,' that's a double negative of logic."

Blackwell said the wording is especially troublesome because of the state's history with casino gambling proposals. Gov. Bob Taft has repeatedly told legislators he'll veto a video lottery bill, and voters have reinforced their opposition to gambling by voting down similar measures twice before, in 1990 and 1996.

But with lawmakers scrambling to find money and Ohioans telling them they don't want higher taxes, some say desperate legislators may try to legalize gambling at any cost.

Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Green Township, who wrote the proposal, said that wasn't his intention.

"I don't think the secretary of state is giving the people of Ohio enough credit to understand the meaning of the word 'prohibit,'" Seitz said.

Seitz said Blackwell has been on a personal crusade against casino gambling for more than a year, and he's worried his personal opinions might be Blackwell's motivation in sending the letter.

Blackwell said he thinks he has a responsibility to voters to advise senators to change the wording.

White hasn't decided if he will take action on the request because he hasn't seen the letter outlining Blackwell's concerns, a spokeswoman said.

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