Monday, November 16, 2009

Casino Money

County not betting on casino revenue
POSTED: November 15, 2009
LISBON - Columbiana County could receive $5.2 million a year in gambling tax revenue resulting from the recently passed state Issue 3, with $2.1 million of that going to local school districts.

These figures came from an analysis of the state ballot issue passed by voters in the Nov. 3 election, which allows placing casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo. The analysis was performed by the group pushing the ballot issue.

County Commissioner Penny Traina was provided a copy of the analysis at a late September meeting of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio. According to the analysis, the casinos would generate an estimated $651 million in tax revenue in 2012, with the money to be distributed among every school district and all 88 counties. State government would also receive a share of the proceeds.

County schools would reportedly receive $2.1 million, with Columbiana County commissioners getting the remaining $3.1 million.

Traina remains skeptical, pointing to what occurred in the early 1970s when the lottery came to Ohio. The tax revenue generated by the lottery was to go for education but there ended up being no real net gain, as the state legislature eventually began using the new funding to take the place of existing school funding.

"A concern is are we going to supplant revenue (received from the state) or is it going to supplement it," she said.

But if the projections hold true, Traina said they would obviously be thrilled to have an extra $3.1 million to work with every year.

"Oh, gosh, it wouldn't be like we would spend it all, but it certainly would help cushion the (budget) shortfalls we experience every year," she said. "We would continue to be conservative in how we spend it, but it would give us flexibility."

The extra money would come at a time when county revenue from the sales tax and other sources has begun to drop due to the lingering recession. It would also provide commissioners with some extra money they could use as matching funds needed to secure state and federal grants for economic development projects.

But Traina said commissioners would still be careful how they spent any extra money, mindful of the need to avoid putting the county in precarious situation if the tax revenue declined or dried up.

"Just because you have that extra revenue doesn't mean you should spend it," she said.

Issue 3 may not survive in its current form, however. Gambling opponents are preparing a ballot issue of their own for the May election that would address what they say are weaknesses in Issue 3.

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