Perspective: Hedging our bets on casinos

9:12 PM, Mar 7, 2013   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- And now there are four.

The last of  Ohio's four, voter-approved casinos opened March 4 in Cincinnati.

Mayor Mark Mallory hailed it as a home run for his city.

"This is a top-line casino and the people who are accustomed to the big casinos in Vegas, they're not going to miss anything here," he said.

But if Ohio voters thought they were getting a home run money-raiser for their cities, counties and schools, it looks like casinos are actually shaking out as more of a ground-rule double.

Something is missing -- the whopping windfalls of tax revenue the state projected it would collect.

When voters were pondering the benefits of casinos four years ago, state officials were prediciting all four would take in about $1.9 billion a year.

As they say, upon further review, Governor John Kasich's new budget now projects all four casinos will being in only about half that, or about $958 million a year.

The state collects a 33 percent tax on a casino's take after winnings are paid out.

That money is split among host cities, other big cities, all 88 counties and all the state's school districts.

Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, all Northeast Ohio counties and schools won't be getting what they expected.

So in the difficult time when the economy and other tax collections are slumping and previous state budget cuts have taken a big toll and the federal sequester will mean big hits, the expected lift from casinos revenues is heading south too.

Why is that?

Well, first off, does reality ever live up to rosy original projections?

The casino business is still recovering after being hard hit by the recession.

Plus the original projections were calculated assuming Dan Gilbert's Rock Ohio's bigger casino would be built behind Tower City.

That larger casino is still in the works. But there's no timeline and no legally obligated target date to build it by.

The Horseshoe Casino's take is stabilizing. February numbers are up 7 percent over January's.

The state's original guesses also did not include other developments.

Ohio's seven trotting and thoroughbred tracks are installing slot machines. That will take a bite of casino business.

One racino is open. A second at Thistledown opens next month.

And no one foresaw the explosion of internet cafes now claiming a share of the gambling dollars.

Casinos and Attorney General Mike DeWine are leading a push to kill cafes. They are not regulated. The state gets no gambling tax from then.

With Ohio becoming a gambling galore state, casino officials claim they are not worried about saturation.

Really? Want to bet?

Maybe they are not, but perhaps state and local governments taxpayers and voters who approved casinos based on bigger guess-timates should be.


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