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Politics is big in these parts, and we’ve got it covered. John Arthur Hutchison and other staff writers will offer their inside information on the events, big news and little moments of the local political scene in Lake, Geauga and eastern Cuyahoga counties.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Know when to fold 'em

The current economic downturn has the eyes of some Ohio leaders looking for a jackpot, their eyes spinning like slot machines hoping to land on all cherries.

Interested in a quick fix, Gov. Ted Strickland and newly elected House Speaker Armond Budish, both Democrats, each recently acknowledged they’d be open to the idea of bringing casino gambling to Ohio.

No specific plan has been set forth, though details of one company’s proposal and plans to pursue yet another ballot initiative were reported earlier this month. Also, something may be unveiled during Strickland's State of the State address at noon on Wednesday.

Still, casino gambling as economic development is a losing bet.

Proponents will say that building casinos in Ohio's three biggest cities and/or installing slot machines at the state's seven horse-racing tracks will keep millions of dollars from leaving the Buckeyes State -- and they’re right. They’re also correct when they say building casinos would bring hundreds of new jobs to Ohio.

But what new casinos are unlikely to do -- at least over the long haul -- is bring residents from surrounding states to Ohio in the same way Ohioans have been traveling across state lines to gamble. With the exception of Kentucky, every state that borders Ohio has casinos. Who from those states is regularly going to travel away from home to spend money in here?

Rather, what seems more likely to happen is that Ohioans will be the ones spending their paychecks at the casinos, which mean those hard-earned dollars won't be spent at local restaurants, bakeries, florists, tailors, retail shops, movie theaters, museums, sporting events and the like. Those new jobs created by the casinos might be offset by the old jobs lost due to decreased income at already established businesses.

Basically, Ohio has all but missed the boat on cashing in on casino gambling. Perhaps had voters approved such an issue decades ago, casinos could've had an economic impact.

Coincidentally, the same could almost be said for Cuyahoga County's current large-scale economic development project: a new convention center. Hopefully the Medical Mart will make this project unique and successful, but the convention center was an idea first proposed more than 20 years ago by then-Cleveland Mayor George Voinovich.

Following the latest defeat this past November, Ohioans have now rejected casino gambling a handful of times over the years. But there's no end in sight, as casino companies -- and perhaps the state -- line up for possibly another try this November.

However, Strickland, Budish and others would better serve Ohio by focusing their economic development efforts on strengthening higher education, encouraging entrepreneurship, and investing in research and development for the 21st Century's global economy.

Those are gambles worth taking.

-- Michael C. Butz


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