09/01/2009 11:00PM

Ohio court hears slots positions


The Ohio Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on the legality of slot machines at state racetracks from attorneys of the state and a group that sued to stop the machines' installation.

LetOhioVote.org, a group established earlier this summer, contends that the legislature overstepped its authority when it approved a budget in July that authorized installation of a total of 17,500 slot machines at the state's seven racetracks. The group says that slot machines can be authorized only after a state referendum.

Attorneys for the state argued that the state constitution allows the legislature wide latitude in raising money for the budget, and that approval of the slot machines was within the state's authority.

The court is expected to take several months to issue a ruling.

Gov. Ted Strickland inserted the slot-machine provisions into the budget in order to raise an estimated $1 billion over two years for the state's educational system. Under the original estimates, the machines would begin taking bets in May 2010.

Along with other racing interests, the owners of the state's three Thoroughbred tracks - Thistledown, River Downs, and Beulah Park - have lobbied unsuccessfully for slot machines for the past decade.

Voters in Ohio have rejected proposals for expanded gambling four times in the past 20 years, including in a referendum last year. Despite those results, voters will be asked this November to approve a referendum that would allow casinos in each of Ohio's four largest cities: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo.