Published: Friday, November 10, 2006
Slots supporters put blame on Cuyahoga
You can't put the burden on one county, opponents of the initiative said.
COLUMBUS (AP) A proposal to pay for college scholarships with electronic slot machines was doomed because voter support in Democrat-rich Northeast Ohio failed to meet backers' pre-election forecasts, supporters say.
One of the biggest problems, they say, was low turnout in Cuyahoga County, where support for the measure was high.
Horse racetrack owners behind the Learn and Earn initiative predicted the measure to put the slot machines at their facilities would pass 57 percent to 43 percent in the 17 counties making up the Cleveland media market. Instead the measure lost 52 percent to 48 percent in those counties, said Neil Clark, a Statehouse lobbyist who helped coordinate the campaign.
"Polls always showed that Cuyahoga County was in the 70s in support of gambling but they didn't show up to vote," Clark said Thursday.
Only 39 percent of registered voters in Cuyahoga County cast ballots Tuesday, considerably below the statewide voter turnout figure of 53 percent, according to preliminary counts by the secretary of state's office.
The ballot issue passed 55 percent to 45 percent in Cuyahoga County, which would have gained slot machines at the Thistledown racetrack as well as two freestanding casinos in downtown Cleveland.
With 560,000 votes cast, Cuyahoga County also had the highest number of voters in the 17-county market, more than twice that of the next-closest county, Summit, where the issue failed 56 percent to 44 percent.
Voter turnout in Summit County, where Northfield Park Racetrack straddles the line with Cuyahoga County, was 54 percent.
"A higher turnout in Northeast Ohio would have done a world of difference," said Ian James, a Learn and Earn spokesman.
"Cleveland shoots everybody in the foot," he said. "That Cuyahoga County turnout model sucks everyone down."
Opponents of the measure scoffed at the analysis, saying Learn and Earn's resounding defeat statewide 57 percent to 43 percent can't be blamed on one county. It was the third defeat in 16 years of issues that would have expanded gambling.
"They can blame it on a bunch of things, but the reason why it went down is people don't want gambling in Ohio," said Chris Paulitz, spokesman for Sen. George Voinovich. "They've proven it in 1990, 1996 and now in 2006 third strike and you're out."
Internal polls never showed support in Cuyahoga County above 54 percent, meaning extra turnout would not have changed the measure's outcome in that county, said David Zanotti, president of the Ohio Roundtable, a conservative public advocacy group that opposed the issue.
In addition, Tuesday's strong showing by Democrats combined with reduced numbers of conservatives going to the polls should have helped, not hurt, the gambling proposal, Zanotti said.
The turnout model "was exactly what they needed," Zanotti said. "They had the perfect opportunity."
Meanwhile, the state's beleaguered horse racing industry which would have earned hundreds of millions of dollars from the proposal tried to figure out how to boost their sagging revenues.
Track owners and horse breeders have repeatedly said the industry could use the money to help create bigger purses and attract more people to the tracks.
"This is a blow to the agribusiness that surrounds the racing industry," said Dennis Heebink, a thoroughbred breeder in Hocking County and former president of the Ohio Horse Racing Council. "We employ a lot of people, we've got a lot of farms, a lot of green space a lot of people's lives are involved in it."