If I Were a Betting Man...

So I'm sitting at the poker table at a Catholic church festival last Saturday, and a few of us are pounding beers and discussing the moral implications of expanding casino gambling across Ohio. We

May 17, 2006 at 2:06 pm

So I'm sitting at the poker table at a Catholic church festival last Saturday, and a few of us are pounding beers and discussing the moral implications of expanding casino gambling across Ohio. We agree that the state would go to hell in short order if the casino bosses pushing a November ballot issue are allowed to put slot machines at Ohio's horse tracks and in downtown Cleveland.

"Father, I'm all in," I tell the dealer, the affable and slightly tipsy parish priest. "I'll say 1,000 Hail Marys if you show me a King on the river card."

Visions of a full house and $250 in the winner's pot dance in my head, but it's not to be. My buddy Mark takes all my chips, and I'm busted.

I have a winning $25 scratch-off ticket in my shirt pocket, so I head home via the mini-mart, where I buy more beer and some Power Ball numbers. Looking at the headlines in The Enquirer at the store, I notice both gubernatorial candidates, Ted Strickland and Ken Blackwell, have come out against the casino proposal because they oppose state-sponsored gambling.

I fall asleep content that, no matter what, Ohio stands up for what's right.

At work on Monday, I see a press release from a group called Ohio Learn and Earn that says I can send my kids to college for free if we pass the casino ballot initiative.

For the first 12 years after slots are introduced in Ohio, their profits will pay college tuition for the top 5 percent of all graduating high school seniors in the state; after 12 years, every high school grad goes to college for free thanks to the casinos.

Since my kids are young and smart, I'm feeling pretty good about this deal. Especially after I do an edit of Doug Trapp's cover story (page 25), which reminds me how insanely expensive college tuition is these days in Ohio.

The college education part of the casino plan is supposed to generate about $1 billion a year, which seems like a ton of money, but I feel better when I read the part of the press release that says the money will be safeguarded by appointed political officials in Columbus. That means the funds absolutely can never ever be siphoned off to ease a budget deficit, redirected into "more pressing" priorities or invested in rare coins.

I might not like the idea of casino gambling in my state, I decide, but my children's future is at stake. Why not let some suckers lose their shirts playing slots and pay for my kids to go to Miami?

I take a nap at my desk content that, no matter what, Ohio makes practical decisions in the best interests of its citizens.

I wake up in time to call it a day, and I turn on the radio to get the lowdown on traffic. I hear a news report about Cincinnati City Council members up in arms over the Learn and Earn plan, which axed Cincinnati from its original list of casino options.

Apparently the company that owns Argosy Casino in Lawrenceburg as well as the horse track in Toledo, which had been tinkering with its own version of a casino ballot initiative, joined up with Learn and Earn. Suddenly Cincinnati, which the plan said would get a downtown casino location along with Cleveland, was dropped altogether, prompting city leaders here to organize a protest.

Here we are being aced out by Cleveland again and also by a successful casino downriver that sucks millions of dollars out of Cincinnati's economy. We want to suck local people's money ourselves, council members announce, so we must have our own downtown casino.

That gets my blood boiling. I mean, getting screwed by Cleveland and Indiana? How humiliating!

I'm reminded of the great supply-side economist Sally Brown, who famously said in A Charlie Brown Christmas, "All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share."

Hell yeah! Think of what this region could do with the millions of local dollars a downtown casino would generate each year — maybe we add a lane to I-75 or build parking garages on the riverfront or, wait, build another stadium!

Cincinnati always seems to be the last city to pick up on national development trends, but this time we're not going to be left behind, dammit!

I get home, plop on the couch and daydream, content that, no matter what, Ohio treats all of its cities, counties and citizens fairly and equitably.

I lie there smiling, thinking: Is this a great state, or what? We're too smart in Ohio to let emotions, prejudices, religious affiliations, political gamesmanship and backroom deals affect important public policy decisions. In recent years we've had sober, intelligent debates about tax policy, campaign finance reform, technology investment and same-sex marriage, so why shouldn't we expect the same for casino gambling?

Certainly the Learn and Earn folks will realize it's only fair for Cincinnati, which already faces casino competition 30 minutes away in Indiana and could see more competition if Kentucky voters pass similar gambling legislation, to have a downtown casino while Cleveland gets two casinos to compete against new slot machines in neighboring Pennsylvania. Certainly they know one ballot initiative supported by all the major cities in Ohio has a better chance of passing than two conflicting versions.

Certainly, once that passes, leaders in Cincinnati will honestly assess the merits and drawbacks of building a casino/hotel development at The Banks vs. Broadway Commons. Certainly they'll encourage the public to take an active role in that debate.

Before I turn in for the night, I page my buddy's bookie and bet $500 on Cincinnati landing a casino and take The Banks at 5-3 odds over Broadway Commons. I also take the Cavs, who are getting 5 points against the Pistons in the NBA playoffs. And I put $50 across the board on Barbaro in the Preakness.

Contact john fox: jfox(at)citybeat.com