Updated Wed, Dec 18, 2013 1:52 pm
During the 2009 campaign to bring four casinos to Ohio, supporters claimed they would generate as much as $2 billion in annual revenues and $643 million in taxes for local government and schools.
So far the returns have been about half the purported amount backers promised.
Marcus Glover is the general manager of the Horseshoe Casino, the first of the four to open.
Since its grand opening in May 2012, the Cleveland facility has averaged roughly $20 million a month.
Glover concedes that’s a bit shy of the goal, but …
“…casinos should never be viewed as a panacea, and if you rely on casinos to save your economy or your neighborhood, to use a gambling term….you’re betting on the wrong number," Glover said. "You know, casinos should be viewed as a piece of a puzzle. And in our case in Cleveland, we have many great destination attractions to draw people to downtown. The casino is now an addition to that.”
The shortfall doesn’t surprise John Warren Kindt, a Professor of Business and Legal Policy at the University of Illinois.
He says there’s always a reality check once the bright economic splash of a new casino fades.
“There’s gonna be a cream market, it’s gonna look great, but it’s really economic fools gold," Kindt said.
Kindt says back in the 1990s, he and his colleagues worked with Ohio Governor George Voinovich and Congressional delegates on the casino issue.
He says research from the National Gambling Impact Commission has affirmed many of his worst fears, that casinos bring what he calls the “A-B-Cs” of gambling, namely addiction, bankruptcy, and crime.
“And in fact, gambling cannibalizes other businesses eventually, and it’s not the tax revenue source that the industry keeps saying that it is," Kindt said.
But proponents say the Horseshoe Casino hasn’t attracted more crime or encroached on other downtown businesses.
Brian Goodman, a local restaurateur with the Greenhouse Tavern, says his business hasn’t seen a decline, but rather an increase in downtown visitation.
“But I don’t know if we can attribute it to the casino in general, I think we can attribute it to a growing Cleveland….a growing population…an Indians team that actually had a really good season….and just a …somewhat of a booming economy with people that are moving to the downtown area, also," Goodman said.
Basically affirming Marcus Glover’s take that the Horseshoe is a piece of Cleveland’s overall economic puzzle, and not its sole engine.
One caller – identified as “Hugh” – says he petitioned hard for the casinos, despite opposition from Ohioans who denounced gambling on moral grounds.
“It’s very sad, that Ohio spent all those years missing the revenue because of those people’s ideas. And I’m so glad we finally got mature in this state, and we’re reaping profits," Hugh said.
Critics maintain it’s only a matter of time before chronic issues like crime and negative economic effects on local businesses surface.
Whether or not they’re right, the Horseshoe and Ohio’s other casinos will find their own challenges… in increased competition from racinos…and the region’s ongoing struggles with unemployment, population decline, and a sluggish economic rebound.