07/10/2009 12:00AM

Ohio leaders advance slots


Legislative leaders in Ohio agreed to a state budget on Friday afternoon that will authorize 2,000 slot machines at each the state's seven racetracks as part of a plan to help close a $3.2 billion budget deficit for the next two years.

Details were unavailable on Friday on how revenue from the slot machines would be divided. The budget, however, included a line item of $933 million in revenue from the slot machines to the state. Before Friday, state officials had said the state would receive approximately 50 percent of the revenue.

In crafting the budget agreement, Gov. Ted Strickland bypassed a vote in the legislature on slot machines by pledging to sign an executive order granting the state lottery the authority to operate the machines at the racetracks on Monday. Senate Republicans were reluctant to vote on the issue, in part because Ohio voters have rejected four state referenda on expanding gambling, including one last year that would have allowed a single casino in the state.

In a statement announcing the budget plan, the state senate's president, Bill Harris, a Republican, said that he believed the governor had the "authority" to issue the executive order to allow slot machines. A conference committee of the two legislative houses is scheduled to meet on Monday morning to draft the language of the budget and insert the authorization.

Ohio racetracks have lobbied unsuccessfully for the authorization to operate slot machines for years. Currently, three Thoroughbred racetracks operate in Ohio: Thistledown near Cleveland, River Downs in Cincinnati, and Beulah Park in Columbus. Thistledown is owned by Magna Entertainment Corp. which is in bankruptcy and is searching for a buyer for the track.