CHICAGO — Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland is resuming a push to install 17,500 slot machines at horseracing tracks to generate millions in new money for the state budget.
The move comes after the proposal’s main opposition group dropped its ballot referendum drive that would have put the question before the voters in November.
Strickland’s aides said the governor is now seeking a court opinion on whether he has the authority to install the slot machines as an expansion of the state lottery.
Strickland proposed the slot-machine plan last year as a key provision in balancing the 2010-11 budget.
The Legislature enacted the measure, but dropped it after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in favor of the opposition group, LetOhioVote.org, and said the measure must go before the voters.
The court ruled that the Legislature could not include the measure in the budget without a vote — but did not opine on whether the governor has the authority to install the machines without legislative action.
The Ohio Lottery Commission, whose members are appointed by Strickland, is set to vote Monday on a legal strategy to ask the courts to affirm Strickland’s ability to install the machines.
“Our first priority is legal clarity, and this is the first step in the process of achieving that clarity,” lottery spokeswoman Jeannie Roberts said in a statement. “It is our intention to seek a declaratory judgment action from the courts relative to the lottery’s ability to move forward.”
Other anti-gambling groups could still challenge the proposal.
The move comes as Ohio’s four largest cities prepare for new casinos after voters approved casino gambling last November.
Some local reports have speculated that Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers and two of the new casinos, was a major force behind LetOhioVote.org.
Reports said the group dropped its opposition following the Ohio State Racing Commission’s recent approval of the sale of a horse track to Harrah’s Entertainment, which has an agreement to give Gilbert a piece of the track.
Strickland projected last year that the machines would generate $933 million in new education funding for the state. That figure, however, is expected to be lower now due to the new casinos.
The new slot machine money would help offset a shortfall that some say could be as high as $8 billion in the state’s upcoming two-year budget period that begins July 1, 2011.
The current two-year, $52 billion budget was balanced using a number of one-time revenue measures that some say total $8 billion, or 20% of the general fund.