Filing asserts Penn National against Ohio slots

Associated Press and Associated Press

COLUMBUS – State officials submitted evidence yesterday indicating that gambling giant Penn National Gaming is underwriting an effort to overturn racetrack slots legalized by Ohio lawmakers and Gov. Ted Strickland in July.

The Wyomissing, Pa.-based gaming company is backing a competing proposal that would allow full-scale casinos in Ohio’s four biggest cities: Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo.

Penn National’s financial involvement in the anti-slots effort is referenced in an affidavit prepared for a lawsuit filed by The conservative group wants a referendum on the slots plan placed on the November ballot.

The document, obtained by The Associated Press ahead of its filing, details a conversation between state Sen. Bill Seitz and fellow Cincinnati Republican Tom Brinkman of Seitz says Brinkman was told by the group’s attorney that Penn National was paying for the lawsuit and any referendum.

The Ohio Supreme Court earlier rejected Attorney General Richard Cordray’s attempt to get a peek at the books of, a committee of three that describes itself as defending Ohio voters’ rights to have a say on the legalization of gambling.

Its Web site of the same name reads: ‘Join our campaign to protect your right to vote on this important public policy issue. If we succeed, the issue will be placed before voters in November 2010, and the slot machine rollout will be halted pending that vote.’

Justices ruled last month that the Strickland administration had no right to see the group’s financial information. As a newly created committee, little is yet on file with government regulators regarding the founders of the group, its contributors, or its spending.

The affidavit is wrong, said Carlo LoParo, a spokesman for

‘ has received no funding from Penn National,’ LoParo said yesterday. ‘We’d gladly accept their moneys; however, they haven’t offered any support.’

Ohio’s recently passed, $50.5 billion state operating budget relies on $933 million in revenue from the slots-like video lottery terminals to balance. The machines are to be run by the Ohio Lottery, and up to 2,500 are to be placed at each of seven horse racing tracks around the state. The first payment from each of the tracks to the state is due on Sept. 15.

Penn National told federal regulators last month that it was backing the fall casino issue, known as the Ohio Jobs and Growth Plan, and expects to invest $600 million in the facilities in Columbus and Toledo. Its quarterly filing made no reference to any anti-slots spending the company had planned.

By contrast, competitor MTR Gaming Inc., a big winner in the slots vote, told the SEC it plans to spend $5 million opposing the legalization of casinos.

MTR said if the referendum is successful, a casino in Cleveland would compete with gaming operations at both Mountaineer in West Virginia and Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania, and a casino in Columbus would compete with Scioto Downs.

‘Such new competition would have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations,’ the company reported.

Penn National’s report noted that slots in Ohio will have mixed benefits for the company.

‘As the owner of Raceway Park in Toledo, with an option on a racetrack in the Columbus area, we expect to be a beneficiary of this plan with respect to our Ohio operations,’ its report said. ‘However, expanded gaming in Ohio could have a negative impact on our operations in neighboring states.’

Seitz, a veteran lawmaker and attorney, was a chief proponent of the slots plan this year.

He said in his affidavit that he was asking Brinkman, at one time a colleague in the Ohio House, why he was involved in the lawsuit when he had previously supported racetrack slots. Brinkman said he ‘wanted to vindicate the ability to have a popular referendum on the issue.’

The lawsuit challenges the legal authority of Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, a Democrat, to reject the group’s petitions seeking to go to the ballot.

Oral arguments are scheduled for today.