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Columbus casino’s location to be decided in Tuesday’s vote

Ohio voters will decide Tuesday the location of the casino coming to Franklin County.

Issue 2 is a proposed state constitutional amendment that will determine whether the casino will be built in the Arena District or on Columbus’ far west side.

The west-side location is the site of a former General Motors-Delphi auto parts plant. If the amendment passes, Penn National Gaming will build its casino on the 123-acre west side location. If it does not pass, Penn National will build on 18 acres in the Arena District.

Either way, a casino is headed to central Ohio.

Voters approved Issue 3 in November, which placed one casino in each of Ohio’s largest four cities: Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo. It also set the location for each of those casinos. In Columbus, a site in the Arena District was selected and bought by Penn National, the publicly traded company responsible for
developing and running the casino.

Franklin County was the only county to receive a casino in which voters disapproved of the measure. Fifty-eight percent of Franklin County voters voted “no” on Issue 3, according to the Secretary of State’s 2009 election results. However, residents state-wide voted in favor of Issue 3, allowing Penn National to build in Columbus.

Following the passage of Issue 3, those in central Ohio who were concerned with the location formed Stand Up Columbus!, a coalition of residents and businesses city-wide, said Lisa Griffin, spokeswoman and strategist for Stand Up Columbus! and the Vote Yes on Issue 2 campaign.

Griffin said Stand Up Columbus! is not anti-casino. She said its constituents wanted to have local control over the casino’s location, and that they opposed its site in the Arena District.

“We would support another location that was determined partially by the public input process and acceptance by whichever neighborhood was selected,” she said.

The west side has been overwhelmingly supportive of having a casino. The Arena District has not, Griffin said. The Hilltop Business Association and the Westland Area Business Association are two west-side organizations that support Issue 2.

“We have received very strong support from the businesses and residents of the Hilltop area, as well as from city and state officials.
This opportunity should be the catalyst for the renovation of the west-side area,” said Julie Andrews, president of the Hilltop Business Association.

Issue 2 has received bipartisan support. Gov. Ted Strickland and Republican gubernatorial candidate John Kasich have both endorsed the amendment, as have the Ohio Democratic Party and the Ohio Republican Party, according to the Stand Up Columbus! website. Other notable supporters include the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, The Columbus Dispatch, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, the Ohio Farm Bureau, the Ohio AFL-CIO, Nationwide Insurance, American Electric Power and Limited Brands.

Nationwide Realty Investors and American Electric Power each contributed $500,000 or more to the Vote Yes on Issue 2 campaign, according to filings by the Vote Yes campaign to the Ohio Secretary of State. President E. Gordon Gee contributed $250.

The city of Columbus agreed Thursday to pay $67 million over the next 50 years to Franklin Township in order to annex the west-side casino site to the city, according to a Columbus Dispatch report.

Despite the 58 percent of Franklin County voters who rejected November’s Issue 3, no submission was made to the Ohio Ballot Board in opposition of Issue 2. The Ohio Ballot Board instead prepared an official argument against Issue 2, something it is required to do if no other entry is made, according to the Secretary of State’s website. The argument for Issue 2 was submitted by Ohio Sens. Jim Hughes, David Goodman and Ray Miller, along with Ohio Reps. Ted Celeste, Tracy Heard and Cheryl Grossman, according to the Secretary of State’s website.

The only opposition Griffin was aware of is from the Ohio Roundtable, a conservative think tank. In a column submitted to the Dayton Daily News on April 12, Ohio Roundtable CEO David Zanotti expressed his organization’s view that the Ohio General Assembly and the casino industry have “painted Ohio into a corner.”

“The state constitution and the ballot box are now part of Penn National’s business plan,” he said. “Even sadder, Penn has figured out that to expand their empire, all they have to do is place an amendment in a primary election where the majority of Ohio voters do not vote because they have no reason to vote.”

Griffin said she estimates that 30 percent of Ohio voters are philosophically anti-casino. However, she said her contention is not that casinos should or should not be in Ohio. That has already been decided by Ohio voters.

“Part of our message has been: We’re going to have casinos here, that’s been decided,” she said. “So now let’s let each of the four cities have local control and make it best for them. It really is a simple address change.”

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