By PETER H. MILLIKEN
City and county officials are glad they’re receiving their first installments of casino tax revenues this summer, but some of them are not betting on reaping consistent windfalls from that new tax.
In the first quarterly distribution of tax revenues from the casinos, which opened in Cleveland and Toledo in May, the governments of Youngstown and Mahoning County received $103,557 each; Trumbull County got $182,668; and Columbiana County took in $93,899.
School districts will begin receiving semiannual revenue distributions in January 2013 from the 33 percent gross-revenue tax on Ohio’s casinos.
“It may be larger in the beginning because of the novelty and a lot of people going” to the new casinos, Trumbull County Commissioner Paul Heltzel said of the gambling tax income.
Revenue from the Cleveland casino likely will be determined in part by the performance of the Cleveland Indians and attendance at their home games, which are played adjacent to that casino, Heltzel observed.
“You never know how new things are,” said Columbiana County Commissioner Jim Hoppel, who added that he thinks the casino revenue may fall as the novelty wears off.
“It’s a little bit like the sales tax: You never know what you’re going to receive,” Hoppel said. “We don’t spend our money before we have it.”
“Hopefully, it ends up being a continuing revenue stream,” said Dave Bozanich, city finance director in Youngstown, where the new money will be a small bonus in an annual overall budget that exceeds $150 million.
Bozanich predicted casino tax revenues will grow when the Columbus casino opens this fall and the Cincinnati casino opens next spring.
He said, however, the revenue may decline after the opening surge of patronage at those casinos.
The city will try to estimate casino tax income conservatively, Bozanich said.
Under the casino tax funding formula, counties whose largest city exceeded a population of 80,000 in the 2000 Census share the revenues equally with their largest city. That is the situation, which applies in Mahoning County and Youngstown, which is its largest city.
Youngstown’s population dropped from 82,026 in the 2000 U.S. Census to 66,982 in 2010.
“If people aren’t going to the casinos, then the revenues aren’t going to be high. If they’re going to the casinos and they’re gambling, the revenues will be high,” said Mahoning County Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti.
Carol McFall, Mahoning County’s chief deputy auditor, said, however, she’s assuming that the county will consistently get about $103,000 each quarter from the casino tax.
“Every casino I’ve ever seen in Pennsylvania has never dropped off” substantially in revenue, McFall said. “People love casinos.”
McFall said she hopes Mahoning County’s gambling revenues will increase when the Columbus and Cincinnati casinos open.
“We will budget conservatively to get started because you never know what can happen with these things. They might not open on time,” and revenue distributions might be delayed, she said.
McFall recommends the county commissioners keep the gambling tax money in reserve in the county’s general fund, but spend that money only in an emergency. The general fund is the county’s main operating fund.
Righetti said she looks forward to additional economic activity and tax revenue from the racino, to be known as the Hollywood Slots at Mahoning Valley Race Course when it opens in 2014 at state Route 46 and Silica Road in Austintown.
In Columbiana County, casino revenues will go toward county capital improvements and economic development efforts.
Some of the casino tax revenue there will go toward completion of the new roof at the county jail and paving of the county courthouse parking lot, Hoppel said.
In Trumbull County, Heltzel said he expects the gambling revenue will be consumed by unbudgeted expenses, such as boiler repair at the former Wean Building, which houses the county’s planning commission and building inspection department.
The new gambling revenue may also be used to buy four new sheriff’s department patrol cars, Heltzel added.
Bozanich said he thinks Youngstown’s first $103,557 gambling revenue installment will go toward demolition or economic development efforts.
Heltzel said the new gambling tax revenue, although much appreciated, won’t compensate in full for losses in the state’s local government funds revenue.
Trumbull County got $5 million annually in LGF monies through 2010, but that has dwindled to $2.5 million this year and will drop to $1.2 million next year.
Bozanich also said he doesn’t think the casino revenue will compensate in full for the city’s LGF losses.
Through 2010, the city got $2.6 million annually in local government funds money, but that has dropped to $1.7 million this year and will plummet to $700,000 next year, Bozanich said.
McFall said the new casino revenue won’t fully compensate for the county’s losses from the LGF.
From the LGF, Mahoning County got $4,828,000 in 2010 and $4,811,000 in 2011, and expects $3.3 million this year and $2.6 million next year, McFall said.
“Although I appreciate the casino money, and we need every dollar we can get, it’s not covering what we’re losing,” she added.