Like antlers on a dog, Gov. Ted Strickland's plan to allow video Keno gambling in bars to help close the state's budget gap is a stunning oddity.
As if Strickland was trying to whisper it, the Keno part of his plan came in the very last sentence of a very long and detailed list of ''budget recalibration'' measures announced throughout state government yesterday.
That one sentence reads, ''The Ohio Lottery Commission will achieve its budget target by enhancing lottery revenues through refreshing game products and adding games, such as Keno and other monitor games limited to age and time controlled settings, such as bars and other similar venues.''
Ohioans twice have voted down casino gambling statewide, and the state most recently banned gaming devices such as Tic Tac Fruit after they sprang up throughout the state.
Strickland's office tried to spin state-blessed Keno as being quite different in nature from state banned Tic Tac Fruit, citing the ''age and time controlled settings'' mentioned in the news release. But no less a critic than former Ohio governor and current Sen. George Voinovich wasn't buying it. Voinovich urged state lawmakers to block the Keno plan, saying, ''This is in no way an expansion of the lottery ... This would be a foot in the door for full-blown gambling ...''
We're not opposed to gambling, nor to casinos in Ohio. We argued in favor of the two casino plans that were defeated in statewide votes more than a decade ago. A casino would have been good for Lorain.
But the introduction of state-run Keno machines ''and other monitor games'' in watering holes all over the state is such a giant leap beyond the current scope of the state lottery it would seem to warrant discussion and decision in the state legislature, if not a vote of the people, in light of how Ohio's citizens have spoken at the polls in the past
Strickland sees Keno generating an extra $73 million in fiscal 2009 and allowing him to protect his tuition freeze for public universities, a tax break for senior citizens and expansion of state health care for children.
The latter three items are worthy reforms and deserve to be spared from the budget-cutting ax, but something as controversial and likely to be challenged as Keno is not the way to save them.
Strickland's sudden attempt to shuffle Keno into the state's deck of gambling revenue could result in a drawn-out political and legal brawl over gambling that would backfire and fail to yield any revenue.
Action is needed quickly to avert the budget deficit estimated to reach anywhere from $733 million to $1.9 billion by June 2009. More-conventional, less-controversial solutions should come ahead of Keno.
For example, a state report due out shortly says Ohio could save at least $50 million by June 2009 simply by returning to a centralized state government purchasing system that would command better prices on everything from pens and paper to vehicles and furniture for state offices and even food for schools and prisons.
The purchasing consolidation sounds a lot more do-able and certain to help the state budget in a timely manner than the Keno caper.
Maybe video Keno deserves a place in Ohio's state lottery mix in the future, but introducing it now, in this surprise high-stakes fashion, is not the way to do it.
The governor should set Keno aside and concentrate on other ways to solve Ohio's budget problem that are a time-proven sure bet.