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County casino revenue expected to exceed projections

Casino revenue for Clark County has topped more than $1.2 million this year and is expected to surpass estimates for 2014.

Clark County Administrator Nathan Kennedy estimated the county would receive about $1.5 million this year, but the county has received about $400,000 each quarter and is on pace to get at least $1.6 million.

“We understand that even if it goes over, we know there are other revenue that don’t hit their mark, so it becomes a wash,” Kennedy said.

Clark and Champaign counties both saw an increase in casino revenue this quarter.

According to county-by-county quarterly casino revenue distribution figures released this week, Clark County will receive more than $409,000 this month. That’s up nearly 3 percent since April, when the county received more than $397,000.

Champaign County will get about $118,000, up from about $115,000 in April.

Both counties got their first 2014 payments in January, for the October through December 2013 quarter.

Ohio’s four casinos generated $273.4 million in tax revenue in the fiscal year that ended in June, falling more than $36 million short of state projections.

The state’s executive budget for FY 2014 estimated that casinos would bring in more than $309 million in tax revenue. However, the Department of Taxation reported Thursday that the gambling revenue for the state fell short of that target by 11.7 percent. That revenue is intended mostly for local governments and schools.

Matt Schuler, executive director of the Ohio Casino Control Commission, defended the projection, saying that the estimates were made in September 2012 when only two casinos and one racino were operating in the state.

“When the state needed to put numbers in for the last budget they were dramatically more conservative than any prior estimates,” Schuler said. “That they were off by 10 percent, given all the uncertainty and lack of data, is pretty good.”

Current projections for FY 2015, which began last week, are more ambitious, estimating $331 million in casino tax revenue.

Ninety percent of that tax money goes to counties, cities and school districts. Leaders of those entities welcome the funds but say the money is unreliable.

Officials from Clark and Champaign counties say the funds have helped fund building improvements and offset expenses, but do not replace local government and other state cuts or losses in interest on investments.

They also said the casino dollars are far short of original estimates provided by the state, which indicated that Clark County, for example, would get about $4 million annually.

“We have never used the state’s predictions in any of our planning,” Kennedy said.

Casino money accounts for about 4 percent of the county’s $40 million general fund and less than 1 percent of the total budget of about $156 million.

Champaign County has an overall budget of $40 million and a general fund budget of about $10 million. The county has received nearly $354,000 since January.

“The money is always nice to get, but it’s not very dependable,” Champaign County Commissioner Bob Corbett said.

Corbett said he doesn’t know if the current distribution levels will hold as casinos face competition from a growing number of racinos.

He said officials have been cautious about budgeting casino money.

“The commission never thought we would get near what was projected. Plus the state has cut funds. If we really balanced it out, we haven’t received a whole lot,” Corbett said.

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