To understanding today’s news about the casinos, let’s recap some stories from 2010 shall we?
October 2010: Governor Strickland, acting pursuant to a legislative mandate created by the Republican General Assembly announces his appointments to the Ohio Casino Commission, the regulatory authority that will license the casinos mandated by a constitutional amendment voters overwhelming passed in 2009 with promise it will create as soon as possible tens of thousands of jobs.
“Strickland, to his credit, especially given election-year pressures, resisted the temptation to appoint political hacks to the part-time casino commissionerships, which pay $60,000 a year.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial (Oct. 18, 2010)
The appointees await Senate confirmation (ordinarily a ceremonial act since the Senate rarely holds hearings like in Congress), and the Senate fails to take any action on it since… well, it’s in the middle of a five-month long recess. Regardless, the Strickland appointed commission starts the work of drafting the regulations for licensing and casino operations.
November 2010: After John Kasich is elected with his whopping 49% of the vote, the Republican leadership in the Senate (at Kasich’s direction) takes the unprecedented act of blocking confirmation of any Strickland appointments that had not been confirmed. Specifically, they call Strickland’s Casino Commission appointments dead on arrival. The Strickland appointed Casino Commission stops work realizing that it is not likely going to be appointed by the Senate.
This occurs because Niehaus argues that Kasich deserves to have his own regulators in place despite the fact that Senate President Niehaus actually helped to rush through every one of Taft’s lame duck appointees in 2006, including judicial appointees Taft made literally days before Strickland took office.
December 2010: Over 200 Strickland appointees, who had been awaiting action by the Senate for months, learn that they could be rejected for confirmation for no other reason than the elected Governor nominated them. We dubbed it the “Christmas Massacre.”
The Christmas Massacre is condemned by virtually ever paper in the State, including several who endorsed Kasich, except for the Columbus Dispatch.
Yet Kasich does not indicate who he is considering appointing to the Commission to replace Strickland’s appointments.
January 2011: Governor Kasich takes office, but fails to nominate anyone to the Ohio Casino Commission.
February 2011: The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports how Kasich and the GOP legislature is slow to make appointments to the Ohio Casino Commission or pass legislation that allows for the casinos to be licensed by March.
February 23, 2011: Governor Kasich finally announces his appointments to the Ohio Casino Commission. He names Jo Ann Davidson, former Republican Speaker of the Ohio House, as chair and also appoints a former Republican Member of Congress.
According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Kasich Administration understands what the first priority is for the Ohio Casino Commission:
The governor’s press secretary, Rob Nichols, said the commission’s first task would be to hire staff, estimated by the Ohio Department of Taxation to be about 35 employees for the first year, and up to 158 employees once all four casinos are up and running.
"The first task will be … Who do we need?" Nichols said. "What are the parts?"
May 2011: Governor Kasich’s comments that the casinos are giving Ohio a “raw deal” results in hundreds of construction jobs being suspended. The casino developers announce that unless the dispute over taxes is resolved immediately, the casinos planned opening will be delayed.
June 2011: After hiring consultants to negotiate Ohio’s “new” deal with the casinos in which they get paid $200,000 a month plus a cut of any additional revenues the State collects, Kasich triumphantly announces he’s gotten a better deal for the casinos that will allow construction to resume. While Kasich claims the deal results in the State getting more money, the concessions he made actually outweigh the gains… to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues a year. In fact, schools stand to lose $215 million alone.
Kasich, who had criticized Governor Strickland for allowing for video lottery terminals (VLTs or “video slots”) in Ohio’s horse racing tracks as a means to generate revenues for the State’s budget announces as part of a deal… allowing VLTs in horse racing tracks. Except Kasich’s deal was actually substantially more favorable for the casinos than what Strickland proposed in 2009. Predictably, the Columbus Dispatch’s editorial page praised Kasich’s VLT deal even though they blasted Strickland’s higher tax rate deal as a “terrible bargain” for taxpayers. Nonetheless, construction on the casinos shortly resumes.
Amazingly(?), the Kasich Administration’s funny math works out that despite the fact that their consultant resulted in the State getting less than what it was already supposed to get for VLTs, they counted it as “additional revenue” that bumped up the consultant’s bonus for additional revenues “gained” by its work to the contractual cap. That’s a $15,000,000 contract for a few months work.
September 21, 2011: After passing up candidates with actual casino regulatory experience, the Ohio Casino Commission suddenly considers at literally the last minute with no explanation and rapidly appoints Matt Schuler, the chief-of-staff to the Ohio Senate Republican caucus to be Executive Director of the Commission, a key and first staff hire. Thus, achieving the first step in the Commission’s #1 priority in only 210 days.
Given his total lack of any casino regulatory experience, Schuler announces to a skeptic Ohio press corps that he will make up for his lack of experience by making it a top priority that he hire someone with such experience to serve under him.
It’s eleven months after Strickland first appointed folks to serve in the Casino Commission, thanks to the Senate Republican’s obstructionism (which Schuler engineered) and Kasich, before the agency makes its first staff hire.
November 3, 2011: 43 days later, Schuler announces that he’s hiring a New Jersey casino regulator veteran to serve as his agency’s “Director of Licensing” and a Kansas gambling expert to serve the agency’s chief legal counsel. Other positions have already been filed by various other Republican political hacks.
January 5, 2012: The casinos announce that the casinos in Toledo and Cleveland, which had been predicted to be the first to open in March 2012 may be delayed until June due to delays in getting their licensing approved by the Ohio Casino Commission. The Commission blames the casino developers for disputing the interpretation of some of the commission’s regulations regarding background checks (which the parties were later able to reach a compromise to resolve the dispute.)
The Kasich Administration refuses comment:
Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s Spokesman Rob Nichols said, "We respect the Casino Commission’s independence and its oversight and regulatory missions and we aren’t going to micromanage its affairs."
All evidence to the contrary.
I thought I read that somewhere… Something about moving at the speed of business and not the speed of statute. Something about getting rid of government red tape that is stifling job creation. I know Ted Strickland had something about regulatory reform. Maybe that’s what I’m thinking about.
Seriously, do we call Mary Taylor to report Kasich’s Casino Commission or Kasich himself for blocking job creation in Ohio?
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