Choosing Odd Over Even Paved Way for Casino Win

A  lot of things went right for casino supporters this year: competing gambling interests joined forces; the   support of unions and key local officials; a plan which offered casinos in several cities; the Ohio economy is in the dumps.

But perhaps the biggest reason why casino supporters won this year after 4 previous defeats is they went odd.

They chose an odd numbered year to put the issue on the statewide ballot.  In the four previous attempts casino supporters were looking for votes as Ohio voters were also picking a President or Governor.  Such elections bring higher turnout.  Such elections feature more casual voters, and frankly less informed ones.   When turnout was high gambling opponents were able to count on like minded voters who came out to choose a President or Governor.  Opponents were able  create enough confusion, raise enough questions that the casual voter said “No” to casinos.

Turnout is lower in odd numbered years so if you have a good organization and can get your voters to the polls you  have a much greater chance of winning.  It’s simple percentage based math; your supporters will come out anyway but if they come out when a lot of people stay home, you win.  That’s why Columbus put the income tax increase on the August ballot; that’s why school levy supporters  often opt for special elections.

That’s exactly what happened this time. Even though this year’s 40% turnout was higher than an average off-year election, it was still some 20 percentage points lower than it was in 1990, 1996, 2006 and 2008, the four elections in which voters rejected casinos.

So picking 2009 was the first key strategic decision but it would not have worked if other things did not occur.  Dan Gilbert and Penn National decided to join forces which meant they were not spending tens of millions of dollars fighting each other. That left only Truth Pac, funded by a West Virginia casino operator,to try to confuse voters.  They simply did not have or spend enough money to compete with Gilbert and Penn National’s ability to buy television commercials and send mailers directly to voters.

That money advantage was best used to get out the early vote.  Households received two and three absentee ballot applications attached to pro-casino literature.  It appears many of those early voters supported the casino plan.  Take Franklin County for example.  On election day, 58% of Franklin County voters said no to casinos; Franklin County early/absentee voters supported casinos by a 58% to 42% margin.

Casino supporters also used Ohio’s economic strife and the promise of jobs to win the support of organized labor and local officials in Cleveland and Cincinnati, two cities hit very hard by the recession.  Those two groups used their get-out-the-vote operations to give Issue 3 landslide victories in Cuyahoga and Hamilton counties.

Whether or not you voted for the casinos, you have to appreciate at the campaign casino supporters ran (with the help of at least $32 million).  A campaign which began with picking a number, an odd number, 2009.

- Mike Thompson

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