As Ohio counties start reaping the financial benefits of casino gambling, the County Commissioners Association of Ohio is warning its members to be conservative when counting on casino taxes.
“This is a new revenue source, so there’s a fair amount of guesstimating that’s going on by all concerned,” said Brad Cole, a senior policy analyst with the Columbus-based group.
The association last week released new revenue estimates for this year, next year and 2014. The projections are down compared to estimates handed out last year at this time.
For example, the association expects counties to receive $25.9 million this year, not counting the money that must be shared with the state’s eight largest cities.
Last year, the estimate varied from a high of $44 million to a low of $32 million, depending on the level of competition coming from slots-like video lottery terminals at the state’s horse tracks.
The only such facility open now is at Scioto Downs in Columbus. Counties don’t get a cut of that revenue.
“We’re hearing a lot of reticence in the sense of not being able to predict where this revenue stream will go in the future,” said Cheryl Subler, managing director of policy at the county association.
The state’s four casinos — only the Horseshoe Casino in Cleveland and Hollywood Casino in Toledo are open right now — are taxed 33 percent on their gross revenue, with 51 percent of that money divvied up to the 88 counties on a per capita basis.
Counties receive four payments through the year. Money was dispersed in July and more cash is coming in October.
Subler said several counties already have plans for the money. Some, such as Summit County, are looking to plug budget gaps. Fairfield County may use its share to build a jail. And some are being hit up by cities, township and villages for a cut.
Summit County Finance and Budget Director Brian Nelsen said he has intentionally underestimated revenue from casino taxes because of the uncertainty.
The county association believes Summit will get $791,638 this year. Nelsen’s original estimate was $739,569.
“We were leery of the numbers the state has used over the last few years, given what has happened with the economy,” he said. “We’ve tried to be somewhat conservative.”
Medina County, which could receive $508,161 this year, wasn’t relying on the casino cash at all this year and has no immediate plans for the money.
Chris Jakab, the county administrator, said the county has put off several capital projects over the last five years, including building repairs and renovations.
“I would like [commissioners] to consider focusing on some of those projects next year,” he said.
Wayne County Administrator Patrick Herron noted that the casino cash is coming at the same time that counties are losing state money. For example, local government fund revenue from the state is being cut in half.
Wayne may receive $336,143 this year.
The amount of casino revenue to expect will be clearer next year, when all four casinos are open.
“We need to wait and see what that revenue is going to be,” Herron said. “Right now it’s just being used to replace revenue that’s being lost.”
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or email@example.com.