It’s about a month before the election, and already we are being bombarded with commercials urging us to vote for Issue 3, which would allow “full-service” casinos to be established in Columbus and three other Ohio cities. For weeks, we’ve seen the Fraternal Order of Police arguing in favor of Issue 3, and most recently the pro-Issue 3 ads have featured former Ohio State Treasurer Mary Ellen Withrow, who reassures us that the casinos will, in fact, pay their taxes, and two women who are riding us a bus to a casino in another state and lamenting that they can’t gamble closer to home. So far, I don’t think I’ve seen a single ad against Issue 3. Obviously, the moneyed interests strongly favor casino gambling in Ohio.
Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure I’m going to vote against Issue 3. The proponents of the Issue say it will create 34,000 jobs connected with construction and then operation of the casinos and keep $1 billion in Ohio that Ohio citizens would otherwise gamble away in Indiana or West Virginia or Detroit. I don’t know whether those statistics are reasonable or valid, and I don’t care. I just think casinos are bad for communities, and I don’t want one in Columbus. I’ve been to Detroit, where casino gambling was supposed to revitalize downtown, and I don’t think it has worked. In fact, I think the contrary is true. The “Greektown” section of Detroit is pretty grim — a few casinos in an otherwise blighted area that doesn’t seem safe to walk around. Why would we want that in Columbus?
I don’t buy the “jobs at any cost” arguments. Other forms of vice — such as prostitution, opium dens, or legalized underage drinking — no doubt also would produce “jobs” and keep money in Ohio, or maybe even attract “vice tourists” from other states. The fact that other states are willing to slip into sleaze doesn’t mean Ohio needs to follow suit just to keep a few bucks in the state treasury. Casino gambling seems to bring with it crime, prostitution, guns, theft, drunkenness, and other generally inappropriate conduct. If 34,000 jobs and $1 billion in lost revenue is the price to pay for avoiding having that unsavory atmosphere in my home town, I am perfectly willing to pay it.
In Ohio we have had statewide initiatives on casino gambling repeatedly in recent years. Last year a bruising campaign produced a strong rejection of casino gambling at the ballot box, and yet it is back on the ballot, again, this year. It seems unfair to allow moneyed interests to put the same issue on the ballot over and over again, until their less well-heeled opponents have exhausted their resources and the proposition finally is approved after repeated defeats. In my mind, that is just another reason to vote against Issue 3.