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12-18-02: Gambling is possibility
Botkins officials pursuing commercial development

The Daily Standard

    BOTKINS - Botkins will not see a "Las Vegas-style casino," but gambling is a possibility for a commercial development village officials are pursuing on the south edge of town.
    Village officials addressed the brewing controversy before a crowd of about 250 people who packed the Botkins High School gymnasium Tuesday. Rumors have been swirling for months about the issue.
    Mayor James King started the meeting by dismissing the casino story as "news media gossip." Officials then delved into a lengthy explanation of the town's economic development plans. But Village Administrator Mike Van Brocklin finally addressed the issue directly.
    "Is a Las Vegas-style casino coming to Botkins?" he said, reading from a prepared set of questions and answers culled from the recent concerns expressed by residents. "No!"  Van Brocklin based his answer on the fact that such gambling is illegal in Ohio.  "Las Vegas-style" was the buzz word of the evening among village officials and the crush of newspapers and television stations covering the event. But the Nov. 8 Daily Standard article that first put the issue in the spotlightused the phrase "Las Vegas-style gaming," only once, and that was in a description of gambling laws, not anything specifically about the Botkins issue.
    Van Brocklin later went on to say, though, that a development at the interchange of Interstate 75 and Ohio 274 could involve "charitable gaming," or Class I gaming as defined by federal gaming regulations.
    Answering speculation that a casino development would be owned by a Native American group, Van Brocklin said, "No leases have been discussed with any tenants for this development ... there is that potential, but there are many serious legal steps before any such agreement would or could be considered."
    A prospective private developer the village is working with is looking at a "mixed-use" project, he said. Development could include "eateries, retail and services to interstate highway traffic." Gaming, such as charitable bingo, could also be part of the plan, Van Brocklin said.
    Indian interests could conceivably operate low-level gaming activities, such as bingo, without restriction by state or federal law. Full-blown, or "Las Vegas-style" gambling could come only through a change in state law and a lengthy process by a tribe working through the U.S. Department of the Interior under the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
     The Rev. Peter Doseck, pastor of Only Believe Ministries, warned village officials that any form of gambling would pave the way for future casino development.
    "Do not let any type of gambling come into our community," said Doseck, who was one of four people on the agenda to address council. "It will, statistically, give birth to level two (gaming)."
    In places where gambling is legal, crime rates are higher and domestic violence shelters report increases in abuse cases, Doseck said. The Only Believe complex is located at I-75 and Ohio 274, adjacent to the land village officials are seeking to develop.
    Doseck also scolded village officials for not being forthright with the facts when first asked about the issue by The Daily Standard. Their silence, and refusal to deny or clarify the local gossip, only fueled local speculation, he said.
    Former Mayor Tom Cisco expressed faith in the village's forward-looking economic development program and urged residents to "trust your council."
    Mayor King told the crowd to consider Tuesday's meeting the first in a series of town meetings on development issues. Growth and development is vital to the village of about 1,200, which has lost 12 percent of its population during the past 20 years and lost one-fifth of its income tax base in the last five years.
    Without new development, village officials would be forced to raise taxes or cut village services, King said.
    The need for growth overshadows unfounded fears about crime, fluctuations in property values and other concerns expressed by the community, village Solicitor Stan Evans said.
    "It's easier to answer what happens with no future efforts to attract more business, jobs and development," Evans said.
    The village owns an undeveloped 50-acre tract of land in the corridor along I-75 targeted for development. The town also has secured purchase options on about 240 acres of adjacent land.
    Additionally, village officials have updated their tax abatement program, created a community reinvestment area and participated in state development incentives to spur growth.
    "It was a long-term process and required time, patience and investment to gain future jobs and an improved tax base," council member Brian Esser said of the town's efforts.
    "We all knew this was not going to be an easy, simple or quick effort," King said. "Some facts are true, other speculation is false. But we're not going to be part of anything that hurts our area."


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