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Experience Columbus "Neutral" On Casino Amendment

The board of Columbus' travel and convention bureau decided Wednesday not to take a position on statewide Issue 3. That's the ballot issue that would amend the constitution to allow the building of a casino in downtown Columbus and three other Ohio cities.

When a proposed constitutional amendment would have allowed casino gambling in Cleveland, Experience Columbus opposed it. But the latest casino issue put Experience Columbus in a bind. They're in the business of attracting visitors to Columbus; something a casino in the Arena District would do. Supporters of the casino promised a yearly financial contribution and not to compete with existing or planned hotels and convention halls.

But major Columbus business leaders and developers oppose the casino issue. So Experience Columbus would not take a stand. Experience Columbus CEO Paul Astleford says board members did not have enough information to make a decision

"The truth of the matter is, there was no one there that definitively knew whether all the pro-and-con arguments were valid," Astleford said. "There was not a certainty about who was right and who was wrong on this whole issue."

So the board, says Astleford, took no vote.

That's not the case in Cleveland and Toledo. Both cities' tourism boards have endorsed the casino proposal. The head of Positively Cleveland, Dennis Roche, says support among his board members was unanimous. Roche says that's because of the credibility of the developer, Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"In dealing with Mr. Gilbert we believe that we have found the person that will deliver on all the promises that are part of this amendment and we believe that this project will deliver significant jobs and significant economic vitality to Cleveland," Roche says.

Gilbert's reputation did a lot to sway the convention and visitors board in Toledo as well. The head of Destination Toledo, Dave Nolan, says his city is looking for an economic renaissance.

"Not only with the jobs that are going to be created for the construction industry but just the sheer fact that we will have an architecturally significant and beautiful new business that are going to employ a lot of people and create a lot of revenue for our county; I think those also have to be part of this deliberation process," says Nolan.

The casinos in Cleveland and Toledo would be developed in part by Gilbert's Rock Ventures. Penn National is backing the casino proposed for Columbus.