Ohio regulators recently released a report about revenues earned by Ohio casinos. Coming less than a month before the fourth and final casino, in Cincinnati, is to open, the report indicates that the casino takes may be slowing.
The question for now is whether the Ohio gaming market is saturated. Ohio used to have no casinos, but it was surrounded by casinos in Michigan, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. Now four full-blown Ohio casinos have been added to the mix, as well as “racinos” — horsetracks that have slot machines. In the Columbus area, Scioto Downs features more than 2,000 machines and is packing in people who just want to play the slots. Some Columbus gamblers apparently think the slots are “looser” at Scioto Downs than at the Hollywood Casino, and they’d rather play where they have a better chance of getting a jackpot.
Ohio regulators seemingly recognize that the market for gambling isn’t as robust as was forecast when Ohio voters first approved casinos. The Ohio Department of Taxation originally estimated $1.9 billion in annual tax revenues from the casinos, but this year’s state budget anticipates less than $1 billion in tax revenues from the casinos. With new casinos coming on line, racinos providing competition, and casinos in surrounding states trying to hold on to their Ohio clientele, who knows whether that number is realistic or just another gamble?
I’ve always questioned the credibility of casino revenue and job forecasts, because I believe there are only a limited number of people who are interested in gambling. People who don’t want to gamble aren’t going to start just because a casino opens nearby, and people who do like to gamble can only go to so many places on so many occasions. If the Ohio gambling market isn’t growing, then all of the casinos, racinos and other competitors are just going to be tussling over the size of their pieces of an unchanging pie.