The opening of two racinos in Northeast Ohio last year has local mayors squabbling over how to divide the second of two payments by casino operators from a settlement fund. The fund, intended to help communities absorb the impact of expanded gambling, is set to make in April another $2 million in payments.
Under current law, $1 million would go to Northfield and a second million to North Randall, which have most of the property that makes up the Northfield Park Racetrack and the Thistledown Racino. But a bill introduced by state Rep. Marlene Anielski, an Independence Republican and former Walton Hills mayor, would split the money proportionately, in terms of property.
In other words, Northfield would share about 6 percent with Macedonia and 11 percent with Walton Hills, and North Randall would share 25 percent with Warrensville Heights. The mayors of Northfield and North Randall strongly oppose the idea, arguing that they are shouldering the bulk of expenses such as infrastructure improvements, additional police patrols and zoning.
Ideally, how fairly to assess the local impact of expanded gambling and how to pay for it would have been sorted out in a comprehensive, statewide plan on gambling, as once promised by Gov. John Kasich. As things stand, the state’s four casinos, under a voter-approved constitutional amendment, provide one-third of their revenues to local governments and schools. Racinos, which feature video lottery terminals, operate under the Ohio Lottery, with all profits earmarked for state education funding.
As suggested by state Rep. Matt Lundy, an Elyria Democrat, the best course is for local officials to work things out among themselves, a task they will eventually shoulder once the state payments end. Mayor Jesse Nehez of Northfield, says he has met with local officials, but they were unable to reach an agreement.
It’s time to try again. Without a statewide gambling plan, or a mechanism to divert lottery money for non-educational purposes, it’s up to the mayors to think regionally, then fairly divide any extra revenue from racinos.