By Peter H. Milliken
Quarterly casino-tax revenues for Ohio’s counties and eight major cities, including Youngstown, have risen slightly after three consecutive quarters of decline.
In this month’s distribution, Youngstown and Mahoning County will each get $351,454, compared with the $341,549 they each got in April.
Trumbull County is getting $620,474, compared with $602,987 in April. The figures for Columbiana County are $318,268 and $309,298, respectively.
“The fact that it went up $10,000 is negligible, when you’re talking about a county that has a $300 million budget,” said David Ditzler, chairman of the Mahoning County commissioners, referring to the total budget of his county.
He added, however, “I’m hopeful that it would continue to move in that direction.”
Ditzler also observed: “All those numbers are under what was anticipated” by casino operators when they advocated that voters authorize casinos in Ohio.
“We’re happy with consistency, rather than anticipating any large growth patterns over the next few years,” said Mike Halleck, Columbiana County commissioner. There, he said, county officials estimate casino tax revenue will remain consistent at about $1.2 million a year.
“Anything over that is wonderful,” he added.
Casino-tax income more than compensated for Columbiana County’s losses in recent years in its regular revenue stream from the state’s Local Government Fund, he said.
Local Government Fund revenue to that county has fallen from $2 million in 2011 to $1.4 million in 2012 and $1.1 million last year and this year, he said, noting that last year’s casino tax income was $1.2 million.
In this month’s distribution, Ohio’s 88 counties are sharing $26,656,793; and the eight major cities are sharing $8,119,975.
Casino revenues to school districts are distributed twice yearly, in January and August.
The fall in casino revenues occurred as racinos gradually began opening in Ohio, and some local officials said this spring that the third quarter of decline was due in part to the harsh winter of 2013-14.
Halleck and Tama Davis, communications director for the Ohio Casino Control Commission, which regulates the four casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo, said the spring recovery from the harsh winter was a factor in the slight increase in casino-tax revenue.
Extremely cold or snowy weather forced the Cleveland casino to close once and the Toledo casino to close three times last winter and also kept many gamblers away from casinos when they were open, Davis said.
As the economy has improved and unemployment has declined, Halleck also observed: “You obviously have more expendable dollars” that can be used for gambling.
The voters approved casinos in 2009, and the first one opened in Cleveland in May 2012, with Toledo and Columbus casinos also opening that year, and the Cincinnati casino opening in March 2013.
Casino tax revenues grew for five consecutive quarters as these casinos gradually opened before the revenue decline began in mid-2013.
The state Legislature approved racinos in July 2011, with the first one, Scioto Downs in Columbus, opening about a year later.
Since then, four more Ohio racinos have opened. Two more — in Austintown and Dayton — are slated to open this fall, bringing the state’s total to seven racinos by year’s end.
“By the end of the year, it’ll be a mature gaming market” in Ohio, Davis observed.
The state’s four casinos offer slots and table games, and pay a 33 percent tax on their gross revenues.
The racinos offer slot machines and horse racing, but not table games.
Unlike casino-tax revenue, racino-tax revenue isn’t designated for cities and counties.
The Ohio Lottery Commission, which regulates racinos, gets one-third of their gross receipts and directs that money to public education in Ohio.
“The more options there are for residents of Ohio to spend those gaming dollars, it will cut the pie into smaller pieces; but as a whole, the state is doing what it set out to do — to keep those gambling revenues within our state borders” where they benefit schools, local governments and the casinos’ host cities, Davis said.