Oh-oh, yes I’m the great pretender,
Pretending that I’m doing well,
My need is such I pretend too much,
I’m lonely but no one can tell
Oh-oh, yes I’m the great pretender
Adrift in a world of my own . . .
The Great Pretender*
The news today is that John Kasich has announced a “deal” with Penn National Gaming to move race tracks from Columbus and Toledo to the Dayton and Youngstown.
The “deal” announced by Kasich includes a payment of $150 million to the state, and a promise by Penn National to invest at least $300 million in the new facilities.
Some in Columbus will, of course, mourn the loss of thoroughbred racing in the area. And a future obituary for the Park will no doubt mention its important role in Ohio State football history. But from where we sit, this seems like a pretty good deal for Ohio in general and the struggling horse racing industry in particular.
But a doubt creeps into our heads – can Kasich actually do this?
A quick check of the Ohio Revised Code suggests, no. That’s why we put the word “deal” in quotes.
Horse racing is governed by Chapter 3769 of the Revised Code. This statute gives the power to grants licenses for racing meets to the Racing Commission, who are appointed by the Governor but otherwise operate independently. Even tax breaks for race tracks are governed by the Racing Commission: the Racing Commission possesses the authority to approve tax reductions for Capital Improvements and construction of racetracks.
The “casino” portion of the tracks will actually be video lottery terminals, operated by the Lottery Commission. The lottery is governed by Chapter 3770 of the Revised Code. Section 3770.21 gives the Lottery Commission the authority to set rules for VLTs. The Lottery Commission is appointed by the governor but, like the racing commission, operates independently.
The people who are most heavily invested in this deal, Penn Gaming, recognized that Kasich doesn’t actually have the ability to make the “deal” he announced. From the Plain Dealer article: “A Penn spokesman said yesterday that the agreement was contingent on actions by the state racing commission, the lottery commission and Ohio lawmakers. . . . ‘It’s conditional, is what it is,’ said Penn spokesman Bob Tenenbaum.”
Kasich previously recognized that the Gambling Commission acted independently. In January, in response to questions about casino licenses, Kasich’s Spokesman said, “We respect the Casino Commission’s independence and its oversight and regulatory missions and we aren’t going to micromanage its affairs.” The question now is, does Kasich respect the independent of the Racing Commission and the Lottery Commission?
Let’s also not forget this isn’t the first time Kasich has acted beyond his authority in regards to gambling. As Joseph noted back in June, a lawsuit has been filed alleging that Kasich went beyond his statutory and constitutional authority in regards to prior casino deals.
Why is this important? Our favorite line from “The Great Pretender” is: “Too real is this feeling of make-believe . . .” This describes what Kasich is doing. Perhaps it is his history at Lehman Brothers, as he clearly likes to make and announce deals. The problem is, deals like the one announced for the Racing Commission are just pretend.
*Some like the version of this song by the Platters or Queen. We, however, prefer the Old School version by Roy Orbison.