Casino tax revenues rise steadily, but schools benefit minimally

Published: Sun, September 15, 2013 @ 12:05 a.m.

By Peter H. Milliken


Casino tax revenues to Youngstown and to Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana county governments have risen steadily in the five quarterly distributions the state has made.

Revenues to area school districts also increased from the first distribution in January to the second in August.

April distributions to Youngstown and Mahoning County were $326,893 each but grew to $366,941 each in July.

For Trumbull County, the figures were $576,662 and $647,310, respectively; for Columbiana County, they were $296,127 and $332,406.

County officials voiced mixed views about the prospects for future gambling-tax revenue. Carol Rimedio-Righetti, chairwoman of the Mahoning County commissioners, expressed strong optimism, but Trumbull and Columbiana county officials expect the revenues to level off.

Schools officials say they’re thankful for any new revenue but said that their shares of the casino-tax jackpot are tiny compared with their total budgets.

“We can travel through Ohio and gamble right in our own state” now that four Ohio casinos have opened, without having to go to West Virginia and Pennsylvania casinos, Righetti said. “As you gamble, the taxes increase, and we get more revenue,” she added.

The Mahoning County commissioners are putting 60 percent of their casino-tax receipts into a reserve fund for future debt payments, and 40 percent into operations.

“Ohio was late entering this arena” of casino gambling, venturing into it long after neighboring states, observed Adrian Biviano, Trumbull County auditor.

“Now that we are in this arena, it’s fairly saturated,” he said, noting that Northeast Ohioans can continue to gamble in casinos at Mountaineer Park in West Virginia and in Pittsburgh and Erie.

“My opinion is it’ll continue to flatten out” due to the saturation effect and the sluggish and uncertain economy, Biviano said of casino revenue.

Trumbull County government is the single largest casino-tax recipient in the Mahoning Valley, because it doesn’t have to share its revenue with any city.

So far, Biviano said his county’s casino-tax revenues have been used to buy eight new sheriff’s cruisers, replace computers in all sheriff’s cruisers, repair boilers in county buildings, replace air-conditioning units at the county administration building, and repair roofs at the administration building and jail.

“We just have to wait until this levels out before we can count on any consistency,” said Columbiana County Commissioner Jim Hoppel. “When something is new, it seems to get more use before it levels out,” he said, referring to the novelty effect.

He noted early increases in revenue occurred as more Ohio casinos were opening.

So far, Columbiana County has used casino-tax revenues to replace the county jail roof, pave the county courthouse parking lot and enlarge the county dog pound.

Casino revenue also is being used to raze the county’s former Job and Family Services building in downtown Lisbon, where demolition is two-thirds completed, and to acquire and train a drug-detection dog for the sheriff’s office, Hoppel said.

To put the gambling revenues in perspective, annual general-fund budgets are about $53.6 million for Mahoning County; $39.6 million for Youngstown, $43 million for Trumbull County and $18 million for Columbiana County.

August distributions to the school districts totaled $865,531 in Mahoning County, $796,176 in Trumbull County and $420,679 in Columbiana County.

These compare with $722,597, $670,020 and $350,893, respectively, for the three counties in January.

Casinos in Cleveland and Toledo opened in May 2012. The Columbus casino opened in October 2012, and the Cincinnati casino opened March 4, 2013.

The money comes from a 33 percent gross casino- revenue tax.

Righetti said she looks forward to even more local tax revenues when Penn National’s Hollywood Slots at Mahoning Valley racino opens in Austintown next year, including hotel bed taxes and sales taxes paid by patrons as they shop and dine in local establishments.

“I would look for that to be fairly crowded every day,” she said of the county racino.

Righetti said she’s confident casino-tax revenue will continue to grow. “I believe people want entertainment, and for some people, they love to go to the casinos,” she said.

Under the local government distribution formula, counties whose largest city’s population exceeded 80,000 in the 2000 U.S. Census share the revenues equally with their largest city. That rule applies to Mahoning County and Youngstown, the county’s largest city, despite Youngstown’s population decline from 82,026 in 2000 to 66,982 in 2010.

The amounts of casino-tax revenues awarded to school districts are based on their student enrollments.

Some of the bigger Mahoning County recipients last month were the Youngstown City Schools, $136,056; Austintown schools, $132,751; and Boardman schools, $114,965.

In Trumbull County, the bigger winners were Warren City Schools, $130,045; Howland schools, $74,448, and Niles City Schools, $63,273.

“We’re always thankful to be receiving any additional revenue from any outside source,” said Tom Krispinsky, Howland schools treasurer, adding that the money will be used for technology or textbooks for students.

Krispinsky noted, however, that the district’s August casino tax allocation is less than 0.28 of 1 percent of the district’s $27 million annual budget.

Krispinsky noted that revenues are down from July to August of this year in three of the four Ohio casinos. “I don’t know if the novelty has worn off” in Ohio casino gambling, he said.

“We’ll gladly take it,” said Angela Lewis, Warren City Schools treasurer. She added, however, “It’s not going to solve any school district’s funding problems.”

She said the two annual distributions combined during the fiscal year that began July 1 will be less than half of 1 percent of the district’s total estimated revenue of $60.2 million.

In Columbiana County, some of the larger recipients were the East Liverpool City Schools, $54,236; Salem City Schools, $52,651 and Beaver Local schools, $49,555.

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