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Economy and Business

Ohio casinos see a big recovery in March
But racinos have had an impact

Karen Kasler
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In The Region:

The revenue numbers for Ohio’s four casinos are in. Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler says the picture improved for Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and Toledo, and she talks to some experts about their bets for the future.

LISTEN: Casinos see a big recovery

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All four casinos posted big revenue jumps from January and February. And there were some good reasons for that, according to Tama Davis at the Ohio Casino Control Commission. 

“There were five weekends in the month of March, where we know more people visit casinos on the weekend than during the week. Additionally, March came after two months of extreme winter weather, so I think we saw traffic picking up a little bit more.”

Horseshoe Cincinnati was celebrating its one-year anniversary last month, and it had its best month since last March. So did the casinos in Cleveland and Toledo. And last month was the second best month ever for Hollywood Columbus.

But what about expectations?
The 2013 March revenue numbers were the best of the year for all four casinos.

In the first full year of casino gambling in Ohio, the four casinos have brought in more than $834 million. But the casino industry’s opponents point to a 2009 study from the Ohio Department of Taxation, which estimated casino revenue of $1.9 billion a year.

That number was widely referenced in the 2009 campaign to legalize casino gambling. And they note a study commissioned by Gov. Kasich’s office in 2011 estimated the 2013 revenue – when all four casinos would be open – would be $1.1 billion.

Racinos make a difference
Ameet Patel is the general manager of the Hollywood Columbus casino. He says there’s no way to compare those estimates with real-life numbers, since Ohio now allows electronic slot machines at horseracing tracks, which weren’t allowed when those studies were done. Four of those so-called racinos are open now, and three more will open by the end of the year. Patel says those racinos have affected casino revenues.

And Patel says by 2015, the casino business in Ohio will start to grow. 
“It will. You can’t, you can’t say that about the first year or two. There’s always a shake-up here. There’s always a part where everybody fine-tunes their operation. But I’m very optimistic from the 20-year trends that we’ve seen throughout the country this industry is going to continue to grow.”

But Rob Walgate with Ohio Roundtable, a conservative group that campaigned against all the casino ballot issues, says he doesn’t see how it’s possible that the casino business will get better with more opportunities for Ohioans to gamble at racinos. And he’s also worried about the deal that brought those electronic slot machines to the racetracks without going before voters.  

Expansion worries
“What happens when the next administration or the next governor says, ‘How is it fair to allow Gov. Kasich and his administration to pick the winners and the losers and say, hey, we’re only going to allow slot machines at racetracks.’ What happens when the next governor says, ‘Let’s allow slot machines at all lottery retailers.  Let’s put them everywhere.’ What’s that going to do for the four casinos?”

Walgate, along with the liberal group Progress Ohio, is suing the state over those racinos, saying the racinos are illegal under the Ohio Constitution because voters never got a say on them.  Their suit is before the Ohio Supreme Court now, after being rejected by a lower court judge who said the groups didn’t have the legal standing to sue.

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