These days, it doesn’t seem such a big thing to pass a law. Legislators often do it without knowing how they will pay for it, realizing its repercussions, and sometimes without even reading it. Far too often, they will likewise write and pass legislation without discovering whether these new laws fit within the framework of government as defined and limited by their respective Constitutions.
This is not to say that such constitutions cannot themselves be changed. These documents are created to be so binding that some provision needs to be created in order to modify them to the circumstances and needs of the people over time, hence amendments. The Constitution which serves our country has in fact been modified some twenty-seven times (with the 21st Amendment passing only to repeal the 18th).
While amending the US Constitution is a very complex process, involving passage by a two-thirds majority of both Houses of Congress and ratification by three-quarters of the state legislatures, amending the Ohio Constitution is less complicated. Amendments to this document require only approval by a three-fifths majority in both houses of the state legislature, followed by approval by a simple majority of voters. Though less complex, this process was never the less designed to provide for serious deliberation before changing the Constitution of Ohio.
And so we come to Issue 3, a proposed amendment to put one outlet of casino gambling in each of four cities in Ohio: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo to be placed before the voters in November. In my opinion, this is an issue to which we should say no.
This is not because I have some moral objection to gambling. I have in fact wagered a few dollars from time to time on riverboats in the Midwest and casinos in Las Vegas and Reno. Neither is it related to whether the jobs created will be filled by Ohioans or those from out of state. I believe that many of the jobs will go to Ohioans, and that those that don’t will still go to people paying taxes to the state, generating an additional source of revenue. My objection is not to the fees charged, the split of the take, or the amount of revenue projected to be brought in. Regardless of how they are currently described, I am sure that reality will prove far different. Finally, I am not bloodthirsty enough to believe that this is about keeping money in Ohio that would otherwise leave. Offerings in these four cities will never replace the glamor and attraction of Nevada and venues outside of Ohio will continue to get a share of Ohio’s gambling dollar.
My objection to Issue 3 is much like it was to Issue 6 before it from the 2008 ballot. It is that both proposed Amendments limit gambling in Ohio by creating a casino monopoly, something that should never be considered in Constitutional politics. As we would never place such a monopoly in the hands of a utility company or a corporate media outlet, neither should we do so for a group operating casinos.
Penn National may be a great corporation, but so was the group who failed to get Issue 6 last year; and it does not make them more deserving of such a monopoly. Some would argue that while this isn’t the best law, it’s the best we have. I say that far too many bad laws are passed already and that when we have the opportunity to keep another one from passage, we have an obligation to do so. Some will talk about the revenue generated by such facilities being necessary to the state budget, but such logic smacks of approving bribery to achieve a desired end. Some say that this will bring much needed jobs to Ohio, to which my response is that if four casinos bring some, additional casinos would bring more. Why should such benefit be constitutionally limited to these four cities while Dayton, Youngstown, and many other Ohio communities suffer?
If the voters of this state wish to approve of casino gambling, let them do it and leave the rest to the normal legislative process. If we are to add new law to something as important as the state constitution, let us do so in a more broad, more fair, and more decisive manner. Let us not go through all of the work required of this careful deliberative process, only to have to repeat it in the future to repair the flaw that Issue 3 creates. Let us not, under any circumstances, provide a constitutional monopoly to any special interest group in the name of short term job growth or state revenue generation. Vote no on Issue 3.
Tim Higgins blogs at http://justblowingsmoke.blogspot.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: casinos, Issue 3, Tim Higgins