04/09/2003 11:00PM

Ohio bill includes slots referendum

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The Ohio House of Representatives passed a budget bill on Wednesday that would authorize a public vote on legalizing slot machines at racetracks.

The budget has been sent to the Senate Finance Committee, which must approve the bill before it is sent to the Senate floor. Racing officials said they expect the Senate to vote on a budget within the next six weeks. Leaders of the Senate and Ohio Gov. Bob Taft have expressed opposition to expanded gambling in the past.

The referendum would give voters the choice of paying an additional 1 percent in sales tax or legalizing the slot machines in order to close a $1.3 billion budget shortfall over the next two years.

Charlie Ruma, the president of Beulah Park, said the machines would raise $500 million a year for the state and $400 million a year for the racing industry. Ohio has three Thoroughbred tracks and four Standardbred tracks, and each would be allowed as many as 2,500 machines.

Under the plan, the state would get 51.5 percent of the net revenue, while the tracks would retain 37.5 percent. Horsemen would receive 10 percent of the revenue for purses.