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Casino payouts less than projections

Ohio casinos have fallen short of revenue projections, resulting in smaller than expected payouts to local governments in Clark and Champaign counties as well as other entities statewide.

November results released on Monday show the state’s four casinos in Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Toledo brought in more than $70 million, up less than 1 percent than in October, according to the Ohio Casino Control Commission.

But overall, the casinos are not performing as well as predicted.

State officials predicted the casinos would bring in nearly $940 million in taxable gross revenue in fiscal year 2014, said Fred Church, deputy director of the Ohio Office of Budget Management.

But if recent monthly revenue figures continue, Church estimated that casinos could be on pace to gross about $850 million.

“Do I think it’s going to be lower than $940 million. Yes. But I don’t have enough experience with this to know how this is going to play out,” Church said.

Church said predicting how the casinos will perform is difficult because they have not been operating long enough. He said more would be known in a couple years.

Ohio voters approved casino gambling in the state in 2009. Payments to counties are from a 33 percent casino tax.

Since 2012, Clark County has received nearly $1.8 million and Champaign has received more than $552,000.

Clark County received $1.5 million this year, far short of original estimates of $3 million to $4 million annually.

County Administrator Nathan Kennedy said the casino revenue surpassed the county’s 2013 budget estimate of $750,000 and accounted for about 4 percent of the county’s general fund.

Kennedy said he plans to budget about $1.5 million in casino money for 2014 based on the performance of the four casinos this year.

Commissioner David Hartley said the county has to take a conservative approach to casino revenue.

“I don’t think you can rely on gambling,” Hartley said.

He said he expects casino revenue to fall as more racinos open around the state.

A new racino is on track to open in Turtlecreek Twp. in Warren County on Thursday and another is expected to open in the Dayton area this coming Spring.

Other racinos include ThistleDown in Cleveland and Scioto Downs in Columbus.

“I think the racinos are going to reduce it. I don’t see it (casino revenue) getting bigger. There’s only so much gambling that goes on,” Hartley said.

Commissioner John Detrick said the county has taken a wait and see approach with the casino money it has received.

“It’s a novelty and I think you’re seeing the novelty wear off. It’s not going to be a sure income,” Detrick said.

Detrick said officials could decide during upcoming budget hearings how the funds will be used.

The City of Columbus, for example, reduced its casino revenue estimates by $1 million, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

Columbus also pledged a portion of their casino revenue to purchase Nationwide Arena, according to the Dispatch.

Kennedy said he plans to propose that Clark County use their share of casino money to cover unfunded state mandates such as the cost operating the county jail, the public defenders office and the county common pleas and juvenile courts.

He said the county uses local government funds to cover the cost of those services, but because of state cuts those funds have dropped from more than $3 million in 2001 to just more than $1 million.

“(Casino revenue) doesn’t help completely, but it does offset costs,” Kennedy said.

County officials said they remain concerned about further cuts to local government funds and say casino money is unreliable.

“When there’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty it’s prudent to look at things very skeptically,” Kennedy said.

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