The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

March 4, 2014

So far Ohio casinos are falling short of projected revenues

CINCINNATI — As the last of Ohio’s voter-approved casinos celebrated its first birthday Monday, revenue projections for the first full year of operations for all four gambling destinations are falling far short of campaign promises.

Cincinnati’s casino opened last March 4 with a massive fireworks display and music pumping throughout downtown streets. But the Horseshoe Cincinnati and the state’s three other casinos are not yet delivering on the hype, according to revenue projections.

Through the end of January, the casinos drew about $772 million since all four have been feeding into state and local coffers, according to statistics with the Ohio Casino Control Commission.

If current revenues hold through March, the casinos will be on track for revenues of nearly $900 million during the first full year they have all been operating. That would mean about $297 million in state tax revenues, which go toward each casino’s host city, and the state’s 88 counties, and school districts.

Those figures are far short of the 2009 campaign promising voters that revenues could be as high as $1.9 billion annually, with $651 million in annual tax revenues.

Cincinnati’s casino alone had projected it would draw $300 million in revenue its first year, which would mean $100 million in taxes. Through the end of January, the casino’s revenues were at $200.7 million, which amounts to about $66 million in tax revenues.

“The ramp-up has been a little slower than what some had anticipated,” Kevin Kline, general manager of the casino, said Monday.  “We’re a new business that continues to ramp up and continues to build, and we consider year two to be a building year and to we expect the results to get better.”

Another promise during the 2009 campaign was that the four casinos would create 34,000 jobs. But most of those were temporary construction jobs, and the casinos currently employ about 5,800 full-time workers.

The state’s first casino opened in Cleveland in May 2012, followed by Toledo that same month and then Columbus five months after that.

During the 2009 campaign, supporters lauded the casinos as a way to help solve the state’s budget woes. Opponents criticized the 33 percent tax rate as lower than other states that have approved gambling, said that estimates of economic benefits were overblown and pointed to the societal ills, including gambling addictions.

Two percent of the casinos’ revenues goes toward helping people with gambling addictions, with six treatment centers across the state offering free counseling. People who’ve developed gambling addictions also can sign up for a voluntary exclusion program prohibiting them from entering Ohio’s casinos.

Through last month, 748 people had signed up for the program, according to statistics with the Ohio Casino Control Commission.

The agency’s statistics also show a steady rise in problem gambling, said Laura Clemens, program coordinator for the agency’s responsible gambling unit.

“Gambling is coming closer and closer to people, and the numbers are definitely rising accordingly,” Clemens said.

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