Local legislators appear to be divided along party lines on whether an attempt should be made to keep a casino from being built in the Arena District.

Local legislators appear to be divided along party lines on whether an attempt should be made to keep a casino from being built in the Arena District.

Republican state senators David Goodman of New Albany and Jim Hughes of Clintonville are co-sponsors of a joint resolution for a statewide ballot amendment that would allow would-be host counties to reject a casino through a local vote.

Republicans Cheryl Grossman of Grove City and Kevin Bacon of Blendon Township are sponsors of similar legislation in the Ohio House of Representatives.

Senate Joint Resolution 8 and House Joint Resolution 10 were introduced in the Ohio Senate and House, respectively, earlier this month after Issue 3, a constitutional amendment allowing casinos to be built in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo, was approved by 53 percent of voters statewide in the Nov. 3 election.

Issue 3 did not pass in Franklin County, where 58 percent of voters were against it. In Columbus, 55 percent of voters rejected Issue 3.

"Clearly, Franklin County, by a 58 to 42 (percent) margin, said, 'We don't want casinos here.' And I think we need to respect that," Grossman said.

Bacon said the issue of a casino in Franklin County became more contentious because casino operators want to build in the Arena District in downtown Columbus, but there was no discussion of that location before November's ballot language was crafted.

"We weren't consulted locally," he said. "This was nowhere close to a negotiated issue. We seem to be the only jurisdiction stuck with a casino that really didn't want it."

Hughes said more than 62 percent of District 16, which he represents, voted not to have casinos.

"I am hopeful that the business leaders and the casino folks can get together and work out some compromise on this," he said.

Goodman said he doesn't object to gaming in Ohio "if it's done the right way and taxpayers get the best bang for their buck."

He framed the issue in terms of zoning: If S.J.R. 8 passes, he said, "It will allow local counties to be able to put on the ballot a local issue to determine if they want or don't want gaming in their communities.

"When Franklin County voted 58 (percent) to 42 (percent) not to have it, we shouldn't have it thrust down their throats," Goodman said. "I have a difficult time, and I think Columbus and Franklin County residents have a difficult time, with folks in Cleveland and Cincinnati and Toledo deciding local zoning issues. We want the opportunity to vote within our community. We want to allow for local control and local decision-making as it relates to zoning."

Most lawmakers polled by ThisWeek indicated that the appropriate course now is to deal with the amendment that was passed, not try to return to the ballot with another one. And several questioned the legality of trying to pick and choose where a constitutional amendment will apply.

"I think we have had lots of issues where parts of the state vote yes and parts of the state vote no," state Rep. Marian Harris (D-Columbus) said. "The smoking ban is a perfect example where you had counties that voted for and counties that voted against, and that issue of opting out never came up."

State Reps. W. Carlton Weddington of Columbus and John Patrick Carney, of Clintonville, said they have not taken a position on the issue.

Weddington said his job as a state legislator "is to work to provide enabling legislation."

However, he said, Issue 3 was a constitutional amendment that passed statewide; just because it was rejected in some areas doesn't mean the new law shouldn't apply there.

"That would also seem true for those who did not vote for the smoking ban, so those areas should be able to smoke, but that is not the case," Weddington said.

While it's true the Senate and House can initiate constitutional amendments for voter approval, Carney said, he doesn't view that as very likely.

Rep. Nancy Garland (D-New Albany) agreed.

"It is not yet clear to me how an additional amendment to the Ohio Constitution will garner the required three-fifths majority in the House and Senate or muster the support to be successful in a statewide vote," she said. "Given these practical realities, my focus is on making sure that the city of Columbus has the tools it needs to protect our community if a casino is to be built."

Those who want to overturn the constitutional amendment resulting from the Issue 3 vote will need to gather petition signatures and finance a campaign, Carney said.

"At the end of the day, once you've amended the constitution, the only way to undo that is by referendum of the citizens," he said.

Majority floor leader Tracy Maxwell Heard (D-Columbus) said the constitutional amendment that resulted from the November vote on Issue 3 is "a done deal."

"We sent it to the ballot. The state voted and it passed," she said. "Individually, I wasn't supportive. I didn't vote for it. However, it is what it is at this point. I'm not sure if there even is a legal process for a county to opt out. That's kind of like saying the governor lost in Union County so he's not really the governor. I'm a little leery of even going down that path long term and establishing that kind of precedent."

State Rep. Ted Celeste (D-Grandview Heights) said officials will likely have to work with casino developer Penn National to find a solution agreeable to all.

"I opposed the issue when it was on the ballot in November and passed," Celeste said. "I felt the Arena District was not a good location and that the community should have more say about the casino and where it would go.

"It may be problematic to get another amendment passed that can change that."

Celeste said he supports a plan by the city of Columbus to return the environmental grant money it received to clean up the Arena District land where the casino would be built.

"I think the mayor is doing the right thing," he said. "The state had provided the money to remediate the land with the idea that it would be developed as condominiums and retail. That's what the property owner said at the time."

Returning the money may send a message to the developer that it should reconsider its plan to build a casino in the Arena District, he said.