Jon Lucas, the president of the Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park, talks about the “wow” factor at the new racino, the dramatic decor drawing positive attention. He stresses the entertainment and dining options, the video lottery terminals and horse racetrack, and the location between Akron and Cleveland.
But beyond the glitz, there are questions about sustainability. One involves just how many gambling outlets can survive in Northeast Ohio. Studies show gambling operations such as those in Northfield draw mainly local customers, who now have the option of going to the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland and the ThistleDown Racino. A racino in Austintown Township, near Youngstown, is set to open this summer.
Another question is how the Northfield racino, which features a Hard Rock Cafe, an 1,800-seat concert venue and a comedy club, will fit with Northeast Ohio’s existing entertainment attractions. That is something leaders of the Akron Civic Theatre and E.J. Thomas Hall are watching carefully. They explained recently to Beacon Journal staff writer Stephanie Warsmith that although the Akron facilities are larger venues, the concert facility in Northfield does represent competition for a limited number of acts.
As with gambling, the competition is ultimately about customers. Unless Northeast Ohio experiences a boom in population or income levels, or both, the racino in Northfield will draw on a limited pool of people with a limited number of dollars to spend on food, gambling and other entertainment. In other words, it is largely a zero-sum game. Whatever happens in Northfield likely will come at a cost somewhere else.
The expansion of gambling across Ohio has been driven by the casino industry and horse racetracks, without an overall plan that takes into account how many casinos and racinos the state could support and how they would affect existing businesses. More, scant attention has been devoted to the well-documented social costs of increased gambling, the toll measured in bankruptcies, suicides and crime. So, the lights are on in Northfield. Where will they go out?