High court to hear VLT question

AUSTINTOWN – Ohio’s high court Wednesday said it will determine whether opponents of slots-like video lottery terminals have the standing to sue, but officials with the new Hollywood Slots at Mahoning Valley Racecourse are confident their plans will not be affected.

The Ohio Supreme Court accepted the request of an anti-gambling group – Ohio Roundtable – that’s challenging Gov. John Kasich’s decision to allow VLTs. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a lower court’s ruling in March, saying Ohio Roundtable lacked legal standing in the case and couldn’t proceed.

Bob Tenenbaum, spokesman for Penn National Gaming, which is installing the Austintown racino, said he is not expecting the Ohio Supreme Court to rule against the VLTs.

Roundtable Vice President Rob Walgate said the group will be glad to have its day in court. A decision in the JobsOhio case isn’t likely until the fall, so the timing of the VLT decision is unclear.

“The thought of citizens or private individuals not having standing to sue their government, that’s an important decision,” he said. “If it’s not discussed, it could have a huge impact for the future of the state of Ohio.”

Legal standing, which gives parties the ability to move to the core arguments of their lawsuits, has also been denied by a lower court to opponents challenging the constitutionality of JobsOhio, a nonprofit entity Kasich created as his administration’s economic development engine.

In January, justices agreed to take up the standing in the JobsOhio case as well, a lawsuit brought by the liberal policy group ProgressOhio and two Democratic state lawmakers. The conservative 1851 Center for Constitutional Law has also joined the protest.

JobsOhio opponents argue Ohio’s Constitution does not allow the state to hand over taxpayer money – in the form of proceeds from Ohio’s liquor business – to a private entity. The Roundtable’s suit contends Kasich improperly expanded the Ohio Lottery by allowing VLTs without putting the question to voters. Attorneys for the state say the governor was within his rights.

According to Tenenbaum, this latest news along with recent debating over the number of spectator seats at the racino and which local community will supply its water have not taken the plan off course.

“It’s a large and complicated process,” Tenenbaum said. “The question of the seating at the racetrack has been resolved and the water situation will work out.”

Additional fees or surcharges on Youngstown municipal water service left track operators exploring other options for water, including running water lines from the city of Niles. McDonald has also offered to provide water service for the complex.

Still, despite these issues, track operators say the racino is sticking with its plan to open in mid-2014 on the 190 acres near the intersection of Interstate 80 and state Route 46 in Austintown. Groundbreaking was held in May for Hollywood at Mahoning Valley Race Course.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.