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Block Keno Plan By Strickland

February 23, 2008
The Intelligencer
For several years, Ohio voters and most state officials have been on guard against attempts by private interests to expand legalized gambling. It turns out that concern was focused in the wrong direction. The most serious threat, it turns out, comes from government.

Gov. Ted Strickland is proposing an expansion, in the form of a new Keno game operated by the state lottery agency. In contrast to the ticket-based gambling in which the lottery specializes now, Keno would move toward interactive gambling. The game already is used in some other states, including West Virginia, where players buy tickets on which numbers are printed, then wait a few moments, watching video monitors, to determine whether they have won — or, more likely, lost. Keno video monitors are located in public places such as restaurants and bars.

Strickland wants Keno in order to help balance the state budget, for which a revenue shortfall of $733 million during the next two years has been predicted. One estimate is that Keno could bring in about $70 million during its first year of operation in Ohio. The number sounds realistic — perhaps even conservative, given the fact that Michigan reportedly raked in more than $204 million in 2004, the first full year that Keno was offered in that state.

Ohio voters twice have rejected proposals to allow video gambling at racetracks and a few other locations. Public opinion, then, is against an expansion of legalized gambling.

And Strickland himself, working with Attorney General Marc Dann, fought against more legalized gambling last year. That occurred when so-called “skilled gaming,” with machines such as the “Tic-Tac-Fruit” devices, proliferated in the state. The Strickland administration worked with state legislators to close loopholes in the law that permitted “skilled gaming.”

The governor insists that his Keno proposal isn’t the same thing as gambling initiatives already turned back by Ohioans. One difference, Strickland has said, is that the Keno games would be “state-monitored, state-controlled and state-regulated.”

Well, yes they would. But we think we join many Ohioans in wondering why a practice that isn’t acceptable for the private sector — expanded gambling — is all right if it is a government enterprise. The answer, of course, is that gambling is gambling, no matter who serves as “the House.”

Strickland insists that he does not need legislative approval to implement Keno. We don’t know about the legal and constitutional aspects of the question — but we do know that many legislators already have said they are opposed to the expansion. Presumably, they speak for their constituents.

Strickland may have the power to do what he wants with Keno — but, to point out the obvious, that doesn’t make his plan right for Ohio. If he persists in it, legislators should begin exploring ways to use their power to block the governor.

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