By Darrel Rowland, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio
A Franklin County judge tossed out a lawsuit this morning that challenged the legality of Ohio's casinos and racinos, removing the final major obstacle to Scioto Downs opening this week.
Judge Timothy S. Horton of Common Pleas Court ruled that the Ohio Roundtable did not have legal standing to bring the lawsuit.
The judiciary "operates within certain boundaries and should not be used wantonly and/or for political or social gain," Horton wrote in his opinion. "Throughout their pleadings and oral arguments, plaintiffs (the Roundtable) have offered little more than bare assertions of harm or injury. Given plaintiffs' dearth of support, the court questions plaintiffs' real purpose in bringing these claims."
The judge rejected claims that the Roundtable members had standing because they are citizens and taxpayers, that they are parents of school children, and at least one is a gambling addict. Those filing the suit did not suffer "concrete" injuries different from those of the general public; even if they did, the court cannot redress their injuries, Horton wrote.
The suit was filed Oct. 21, 2011, against Gov. John Kasich, the Ohio Lottery Commission, the Ohio tax commissioner, the Ohio Casino Control Commission, and several individual members and directors of the commissions.
Since Horton granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the basic issues in the Roundtable's legal challenge were not addressed. One key matter that remains outstanding: whether installing thousands of electronic slot machines represents an expansion of the Ohio Lottery -- which is the state's justification for allowing them without a vote of the public.
The Roundtable also challenged deals that Kasich struck last year with developers of four casinos approved by voters in 2009.
Penn National Gaming and Rock Ohio Caesars agreed to pay the state $220 million more in license fees over 10 years in exchange for the state applying the commercial-activities tax to wagers minus payouts rather than to total wagers.
Those changes and others -- including allowing the Cleveland casino to open this month in phases involving more than one building -- came in memorandums of understanding between the companies and Kasich, and in legislation he later signed, House Bill 277.
The Roundtable said the changes violate the 2009 constitutional amendment that authorized the casinos.
In all, the Ohio Roundtable made 17 claims in the suit, including one that the state is letting the tracks keep too much of the proceeds from slot machines -- two-thirds -- compared with other lottery games.
The lottery transferred $739 million to education programs in the most-recent fiscal year. It could reap hundreds of millions more each year from the racinos.
Horton's ruling can be appealed.
Casinos already have opened in Cleveland and Toledo, and Ohio's first racino is slated to begin operations Friday afternoon at Scioto Downs.
(c)2012 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)