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September 30, 2014

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Slot plan moves ahead in Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio voters would decide whether to allow electronic slot machines at the state's seven horse racetracks -- with most of the take going to scholarships and school construction -- under a plan the Senate approved on Wednesday.

Putting the proposed constitutional amendment on the March ballot still needs House approval. Speaker Larry Householder, a Glenford Republican, has expressed little interest in the plan he says would create a new program in a financially troubled state.

Senators voted 24-9 to put the issue on the ballot. Three fewer voted for separate legislation that would enact the gambling plan if voters approve it.

Gov. Bob Taft is opposed to electronic slot machines, but his signature is not necessary to put the issue on the ballot.

Lawmakers, lobbyists for the seven tracks and others put together the plan. The state would get 52 percent of revenue from the machines, and would spend the up to $25 million of that on school construction, said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Louis Blessing, a Cincinnati Republican. About $475 million yearly would go to scholarships.

About 12,500 students who graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school classes would receive $5,900 a year for four years if they attend college in Ohio, said Sen. Kevin Coughlin, a Republican from Cuyahoga Falls.

Republicans got support from several Democrats by adding a second scholarship based on financial need. Students would qualify through various performance standards such as attendance, grades and extracurricular activities.

Dissenters echoed Householder, saying the program would create a public expectation that the scholarships would continue, even if revenue from video gambling dropped.

This is the fourth time the issue has been before the Legislature. House Democrats, in the minority in the GOP-controlled House, have said they could support the plan.

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