Report: slots could raise more than advertised

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 24, 2003

CLEVELAND (AP) - Profits for slot machines at Ohio horse racing tracks could be nearly twice as big as forecast, a critic of the proposal said.

An Ohio House plan supporting installation of the machines as a way to help balance the state's budget estimates that each slot machine would generate $210 in daily profits.

A new study puts the figure at nearly twice that much, according to The Plain Dealer, which obtained a copy of the report by Jeff Hooke, a Chevy Chase, Md., investment banker.

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Hooke, a director of the nonprofit Maryland Tax Education Foundation, said each of 2,500 slot machines installed at Ohio's seven horse-racing tracks could expect to average a $400 profit each day. He based the estimate on data from other states.

He said $210 is much less than machines are raising nearly everywhere else.

Hooke formed a citizens group in Maryland to fight what he believes is a bad slots deal evolving in that state.

''They want to low-ball that number'' to minimize what the state takes out of machine proceeds and to avoid license fees up front, he said.

Gregg Haught, a lawyer for the Thistledown track in North Randall, who helped put the plan together, said the $210 estimate was ''probably conservative.'' Lobbyist Neil Clark, whose firm represents slots maker IGT, also said it was ''clearly too low.''

Both said there was no benefit to either tracks or machine makers in keeping profit expectations low, other than keeping Ohio's budget on track.

Hooke's study estimated that Ohio could raise $1.8 billion if it auctioned its slots monopolies rather than giving them away, in addition to the $500 million in proceeds the state would receive each year from the machines.

Orest Holubec, a spokesman for Gov. Bob Taft, said disagreement over the value of the slots proposal reflected why Taft believes the machines are an unreliable revenue source.

Holubec said the House estimate of gambling proceeds did not match results of an earlier gambling study that the administration had used for comparison.