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Conservative Business Group Wants To Sue Over Video Slots, But Must Win Another Case First

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A conservative group brought its arguments against Ohio's seven "racinos" to the Ohio Supreme Court Tuesday. 

While it appears the case is about gambling, the justices have another legal question to deal with. Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler explains.

The question before the Ohio Supreme Court is whether Gov. John Kasich and the legislature illegally expanded gambling in Ohio by allowing video lottery terminals to be installed at Ohio’s seven horseracing tracks, turning them into “racinos”. But before the group of racino opponents, the state and the justices can try to answer that question, there’s the issue of whether the group has the legal authority or standing to file such as lawsuit. “This is a standing case as to whether or not the persons who are presenting are entitled to bring this,” said Tom Connors, who argued for a dozen Ohio citizens who are named as plaintiffs in the suit. The group is led by Rob Walgate, vice president of the conservative Ohio Roundtable, an anti-casino gambling group.  Connors says the group as a whole does have standing because the members can show they’ve been injured. “We do qualify under that theory by reason of the negative effects of gambling, both personal and social,” Connors told the justices.

Eric Murphy argued for the state, saying that standing can only be awarded if the group can prove real harm was done by the video slots. “If they’re saying that the addition of the VLTs at the horse tracks is going to cause me some injury, then they have to show what that injury is and they’d have to show how the injury could be redressed,” Murphy said.

The issue of who has standing to sue to block a state law or action has come up several times recently – perhaps most notably, in the case involving JobsOhio. Liberal and conservative activists claimed the public-private entity was illegally created, but the Ohio Supreme Court ruled they didn’t have standing to file that claim.  So the anti-casino group must win that argument about standing first, before they can argue their case against the video slots.

In 2009, the same year that voters approved the casino amendment, the General Assembly passed a law allowing the Ohio Lottery Commission to operate video slots. In 2011, Gov. Kasich authorized the video slots to be installed at the horsetracks. The anti-casino group claims the video slots aren’t part of the lottery, and if the state is claiming they are, the proceeds aren’t going to education, as lottery profits are required to.  Justice Pfeifer asked Murphy about that. 
“Couldn’t the legislature, they’re not constitutionally prohibited from saying, ‘We know a lot of folks like to play the slots and we’re going to allow every town to set up one venue for slot machines or video slots, as these are.’ They’re not constitutionally prohibited from doing that, are they?” Murphy responded: “Not that I’m aware of. I think you’re dead on. Now we’re getting into the merits now, but if it’s not a lottery, then there’s no probation on it and if it is a lottery, then it falls within the exception.”

David Zanotti is president of the Ohio Roundtable, the anti-casino group involved in this lawsuit. He says Ohioans didn’t vote for video slots – they voted only for casinos, and that Gov. Kasich and lawmakers went beyond their authority in approving video slots and putting them into the racinos. “We’re actually protecting the 2009 amendment. We get it. We lost. This isn’t about gambling,” Zanotti said to reporters after the arguments. “It’s about the rule of law. The people didn’t pass 11 – they passed four. The casino industry bought the governor and bought the legislature to get to 11. And that’s the bottom line.”

If the racino opponents win, the whole case would go back to the trial court, and it could be years before the case would get back to the Ohio Supreme Court.

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