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02-07-03: Blackwell cautions careful thought on gambling plan
The Daily Standard
    BOTKINS - "All that glitters is not gold."
    Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell spoke those words Thursday evening, appealing to about 200 Botkins village residents t  consider carefully a development proposal to build an entertainment complex along Interstate 75 that would be anchored by at least some form of gambling.
    The community seems split on the issue that first surfaced in November 2002 after The Daily Standard investigated rumors of the development. Speakers at Thursday's meeting were applauded wildly for their stances against gambling. But last week, when village officials and othe  project supporters unveiled preliminary plans for the complex, the crowd also seemed supportive.
    Blackwell told Thursday's crowd that it is ultimately the community's decision to make, but made no attempt to veil his own views regarding the social ills created by gambling.
    At different points during his talk, Blackwell called gambling, "tempting although dubious," "a fiscal casket" and an "inefficient and ineffective strategy for job creation and economic development."
    California developer NCI has partnered with an unidentified Native American group to look at possibly developing a site on the edge of Botkins. The development would include a video bingo hall, restaurants, hotels, retail stores, meeting and banquet facilities, concert hall, golf facility, all-weather, indoor water park and other amenities. Preliminary plans show that complex would be developed over a 10-year period in seven phases.
    Supporters of the project claim it would create 4,000 on-site jobs and as many as 16,000 jobs within a 50-mile radius of the facility.
    Blackwell questioned, though, whether an entertainment complex anchored by bingo - the only form of gaming that would be allowed under current Ohio law - could sustain such aggressive development plans. He hinted that allowing the facility to open could pave the way to legalized gambling in other forms.
    "What form of gambling has to exist to make it work?" Blackwell said.
    If bingo alone cannot provide the desired development level, Blackwell wondered whether the developers would even move forward with the issue.
    State Sen. Jim Jordan (R-Urbana) told The Daily Standard after the meeting that he believes the developers are looking at expanded forms of gambling in the future. The residual social effects of bringing gambling to Botkins would ripple throughout West Central Ohio, he said.
    "From all of the information we have gathered, this would be a bad idea," Jordan said.
    Paperwork distributed last week by project developers even states that gaming options at the site could increase with changes in state law.
    From a community perspective, bringing in gambling to spur development is as much of a risk as the gambler who thinks he will strike it rich with his wagers, Blackwell said.
    "Gambling is not a productive industry. There is no product," said Blackwell, quoting University of Nevada-Las Vegas professor Bill Thompson. "Gambling is entertainment with very high community costs."
    Gambling in Botkins most likely would lead to "short-term gain and long-term pain," Blackwell said. The community would inherit a number of social ills that come with gambling, including infrastructure issues, regulatory costs, higher demand on the criminal justice system and new pressures on social welfare programs.
    All told, studies have shown that an average community would spend $3 rectifying problems created by gambling for every dollar generated, Blackwell said. As for the jobs, Blackwell said the most skilled positions created would be those of crisis counselors and law enforcement officers.
    Statistics show that gambling will lead to increases in crime and bankruptcies, Jordan said. But the numbers are unnecessary. "These are things we instinctively know occur with gambling," he said.
    The gambling issue regularly rears its head in Columbus, Jordan said. Most recently, the issue was debated in the Statehouse last year when legislators were considering allowing video slot machines at the state's horse racing tracks. Jordan said the issue was all but decided in favor of the issue until some compelling testimony swayed lawmakers the other way.
    The mother of former Ohio State quarterback Art Schlichter testified about how gambling destroyed her son's life. His gambling addiction ruined a promising pro career and has resulted in multiple relapses and prison stints.
    "That shows the impact gambling has on families," Jordan said.
    Supporters of the project maintained a low profile during Thursday's meeting. Prior to its start, however, some of them passed out informational sheets prepared by a consultant working with the developers. Calling Blackwell a candidate for governor in 2006, it asks 10 questions that are critical of Blackwell and his stance on gambling.
    The sheet claimed that Blackwell is standing by while millions of dollars in gaming revenue goes over the state line to Indiana, West Virginia and Michigan. It also infers that Blackwell has had at least some ties to the industry through business dealings. It also criticizes Blackwell for not turning his ire to the state lottery, which plays to "get rich quick" fantasies in its promotions.
    Blackwell referenced the material a couple of times during his speech but dismissed it as a "scandal sheet."


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