Ohio schools will receive $38 million from the first distribution of the state’s tax on casino gambling. Have they hit the jackpot? Hardly. The amount boils down to about $21 per pupil, not nearly enough to make up for cuts in education funding during the past two years.
Yes, school officials are happy to have the money. But the announcement earlier this month by the state Department of Taxation sent them scrambling to provide perspective on what the public might mistakenly perceive as a windfall, leading to less support from the legislature and local voters. That’s a path school officials have been down before, with the Ohio Lottery.
Bear in mind that about $1.6 billion has been cut from school funding during the past two years. Overall, Ohio will spend about $13 billion on primary and secondary education for the two-year budget that ends July 1, making $38 million look like, well, a drop in the bucket.
According to a survey by organizations representing school boards, administrators and business officials, 76 percent of school districts said the casino money would make up less than 1 percent of their operating budget.
Whether things get better remains uncertain. Ohio’s first casino opened this past May. The state now has three up and running, with a fourth and final casino set to open in Cincinnati in March. School officials anticipate two payments a year in the future, but even with a fourth casino, they are estimating around $80 million per year.
Meanwhile, casinos are facing competition from a rapid expansion of video lottery terminals. Thousands of the terminals, which look like electronic slot machines, will soon be operating at seven horse race tracks. Over time, the legislature has decreased school funding to account for lottery profits, by law targeted for schools.
More competition is coming from some 800 sweepstakes parlors and Internet cafes, regulated, if at all, at the local level. A bill to put them out of business stalled last year. School officials are right to ask voters and legislators to look at the whole picture, rather than peddle the false promise of easy money from casino gambling.