Issue 3 supporters claim that the deal will "create 34,000 jobs" in Ohio. That's quite misleading. In reality, it will create 19,000 temporary construction jobs, and then 15,000 permanent jobs in the casinos. And those 19,000 construction jobs probably aren't even going to all exist simultaneously. It's totally inappropriate to describe the situation as "creating 34,000 jobs". If anything, it's creating 19,000 jobs, and then laying off 4,000 workers while replacing thousands more (how many of the construction workers are going to work in the casino, too?) a year or so later.
Who is going to work in these casinos? Ohioans probably have a fair chance at these jobs. Of course, the casinos would like to transplant experienced casino workers from out of state, as well. But these workers will be relocating to Ohio. The way I see it, whether the jobs go mostly to Ohioans, or to new Ohio residents, the benefit to local economies will be about the same. Sure, it's good to employ an Ohioan. But it's also good to move people into Ohio (helping the local housing markets) and then employ them (creating new customers with money to spend at local businesses). And of course, the state and local income tax revenue is identical in either case.
Take a look at the numbers again. 15,000 permanent jobs, spread across 4 casino sites in Ohio's largest metropolitan areas isn't really that huge. That's less than 4,000 new jobs per casino — less than 4,000 jobs in each metro area whose populations are measured in millions. That's not going to put much of a dent in unemployment figures, though every little bit helps. Then again, there are those who argue that gambling will kill jobs; I am not sufficiently informed to concur with or dispute that point.
I guess I'm okay with gambling — as long as it's only in some far-off place like Las Vegas. That way, only those who can afford to travel have the opportunity to gamble away their disposable income. Those who can't afford to travel have no disposable income, and any gambling losses will impact their ability to pay for basic needs.
Unfortunately, gambling has spread across this country, and no point in Ohio is more than a two-hour drive away from a state where casinos are legal. I'll just have to deal with that.
There is an article in today's (Sunday, 1 November) Columbus Dispatch which outlines the negative effects casinos can have on communities. One grocery store reported its sales drop 15% after a nearby casino opened, because people diverted money from their food budget for gambling. That may be an extreme case, but a study shows that a small fraction of gamblers actually do buy less food so they can gamble more. A somewhat larger fraction spends less on clothing. And that study reported a significant fraction of people whose savings suffer.
I haven't personally done any research on how gambling effects things like crime or jobs at the local level. I'm sure there's plenty of evidence on either side of that one. I have a vague moral objection to gambling, but for me there are overriding concerns influencing my decision on Issue 3.
I suppose it's true that Ohioans are taking significant amounts of money out of state to gamble. If it weren't true, then casinos like Belterra and Wheeling Island wouldn't bother advertising in Columbus markets. I suppose if Ohioans are going to lose their money at casinos, they might as well lose it in Ohio.
Issue 3 supporters will point out how much revenue the casinos are expected to generate for Ohio. The numbers look big. But compared to other numbers in Ohio's and counties' budgets, it's not that huge. The fact is, Ohio can do better. Issue 3 would fix taxes on wagers at 33%, and casino license fees at $50 million. But most nearby states have 50% taxes on wagers, and license fees of $300 to $500 million. For four casinos, that's a potential one-time cash boost of $1.8 billion that Ohio is missing out on. That would be enough to fill the funding gaps on a couple of Ohio's largest and most-needed road projects. The terms of Issue 3 were written by casino operators to give themselves a sweetheart deal.
What exactly is a constitution? It's a document that outlines how a government works and the extent and limits of its power. At least, that's what it's supposed to be. Ohio's constitution is loaded with amendments for a million little things that look more like ordinary laws than anything else. Some of these amendments are to make sure that pre-existing legislation can't be ruled "unconstitutional" by the courts. Certainly, how can a controversial law be unconstitutional if it's in the constitution? And the fact that it takes only a majority popular vote to approve a constitutional amendment is ridiculous. The Ohio Constitution is amended too often and too easily. Opponents of Issue 3 claim it will write a monopoly into the constitution. Technically, it will write a duopoly into the constitution. It's my understanding that two entities will each run two casinos. But it would take yet another constitutional amendment to allow more players into the Ohio casino market. That may not be impossible to accomplish, but when voters have said "no" to casinos so many times before, how likely is it that voters will approve new casinos after these four are built? I can imagine a lot of "four is enough" sentiment. Even worse than this duopoly is that minutiae such as specific tax rates and license fees are also fixed by this amendment. Does the US constitution dictate, for example, the license fees for radio stations? I don't think so. That's up to a regulating body, the FCC, which was created by Congress. Of course, the Constitution gives Congress the vague authority to do many things, including create regulatory bodies.
I'm not going to impose my vague moral objection to gambling on all of Ohio. If a majority of Ohioans think Ohio should have casinos and benefit from the revenue they generate, then Ohio should probably have casinos. But the deal should be done on Ohio's terms. Rather than simply accept the terms dictated to us by greedy casino developers, Ohioans should be setting the rules. Let there be a constitutional amendment granting the Ohio General Assembly the power to set taxes and fees for casinos. Furthermore, this amendment should require that individual casino sites be approved by a majority of voters in the county in which the casino is to be located, and those Ohio counties adjacent to it. This will allow Ohio to have casinos on Ohio's terms.
I'm going to vote NO on Issue 3, not because of my vague moral objection to gambling, but because if the issue passes, Ohio will be short-changed and unable to regulate these casinos. If the amendment I outlined were on the ballot, I'm not sure I'd vote for it; I'm not sure I'd vote against it, either. But what's on the ballot this Tuesday is not the amendment I outlined, but a bad deal for Ohio. We can do better.