How are the racinos that opened last year in Northeast Ohio affecting communities in northern Summit and southern Cuyahoga counties? Nobody knows for sure, but that isn’t stopping local mayors from fighting over the second of two payments from a special fund that provides compensation for infrastructure improvements and increased demand for police, fire and other services.
There are other racinos in Ohio, but Northfield Park Racetrack and Thistledown Racino are the only ones whose property spans more than one municipality.
Under current law, Northfield and North Randall would get another $1 million each from the Casino Operator Settlement Fund because they have over 50 percent of a racino’s real property. But a bill introduced by state Rep. Marlene Anielski, an Independence Republican, would change that by divvying up the money in proportion to the amount of property in each jurisdiction.
So, Northfield would share 6 percent with Macedonia and 11 percent with Walton Hills. And North Randall would share 23 percent, according to Anielski’s testimony, with Warrensville Heights. Not surprisingly, Anielski is a former mayor of Walton Hills.
The current mayor there, Kevin Hurst, wants 35 percent of the second $1 million because 35 percent of the race track’s oval is in his city. Walton Hills already splits the revenue from a horse wagering tax with Northfield, but Walton Hills is, after all, losing the Ford stamping plant and the Arhaus furniture headquarters.
(The horse wagering tax doesn’t apply to Macedonia. It’s 6 percent share of property is vacant land. Warrensville Heights has neither a portion of the Thistledown track nor its racino.)
The mayors of North Randall and Northfield don’t want to share anything. Northfield Mayor Jesse Nehez argues that the compensation fund is intended to offset the expenses caused by racinos, and the Hard Rock Rocksino is entirely in his village, which has the responsibility for providing services.
The other communities don’t see it that way, pointing to increased traffic, with little or nothing in the way of related jobs or development that would help their bottom lines.
There is a strong argument that the mayors should lock themselves in a room to figure out who should get what share of the $1 million payments, then map out a long-term plan for the future, or at least beyond April, when the second payments from the Casino Operator Settlement Fund are due.
It’s a stretch to say that Walton Hills, Macedonia and Warrensville Heights feel none of the effects of increased gambling. The questions are: How much of a burden are they shouldering, and to what extent are their revenues growing?
The other question involves the state’s role. In 2011, Gov. John Kasich allowed for video lottery terminals at the seven horse tracks in Ohio. But under the Ohio Constitution, profits from the Ohio Lottery go to the state’s share of public education, not to compensate communities for costs associated with more gambling.
To get around that, the legislature specified payments from the Casino Operator Settlement Fund, which comes from the four casinos authorized by Ohio voters in an amendment approved in 2009 (which created pressure from the horse track owners for their piece of the gambling pie).
The infighting among suburban mayors of northern Summit County and southern Cuyahoga reflects both their own inability to think regionally and the state’s lack of planning for how a rapidly expanding gambling industry was going to affect communities.
After the payment in April, communities with racinos must come to grips with factors beyond traffic, infrastructure and service expenses. Studies indicate an increased cost for social services for gambling addicts and their families and the loss of business suffered by nearby entertainment and dining venues. In the end, the suburbs may support gambling, instead of the other way round.
Hoffman is a Beacon Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at 330-996-3740 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.