The Casino Deal

After a stalemate that lasted for months, Penn National Gaming, the City of Columbus, and Franklin County have tentatively agreed to a deal that will end their squabble and allow construction of a west side casino to proceed.

Under the deal, Columbus will kick in $15 million in environmental clean-up and road improvement costs and Penn National will agree to have the casino site annexed into Columbus, which will then benefit from tax revenues and “host city” revenues generated by the casino.  Both parties will pay $2.5 million toward development projects in the west side, and an as-yet-unidentified party is supposed to kick in $11 million to buy the Arena District site where Penn National originally was going to build the casino.  The deadline for getting all of the pieces of the deal inked is June 10, and if that deadline is met Penn National thinks the casino can be completed and open in 2012.

I voted against the constitutional amendment authorizing casinos in Columbus and elsewhere in Ohio because I don’t think Columbus needs a casino.  My side lost, and it became inevitable that a casino would be built.  Since the vote, and the later decision to move the casino to a location in the city’s depressed west side, workers in the construction industry and west side businesses and residents have been looking forward to the jobs that casino construction and operations will provide.  For their sake, I’m glad that a deal has been struck.

Casino Dreams

There has been a lot of news coverage in Columbus lately about the location of the casino that will be built as a result of the passage of the constitutional amendment, Ohio Issue 3, in November.  The casino developer, Penn National Gaming, has finalized its purchase of the property that the Ohio Constitution, thanks to Issue 3, now specifies as the only location for a casino in Columbus.  That location is in the Arena District, an up-and-coming area of businesses, offices, condos, apartments, restaurants, bars, Nationwide Arena (home of the Columbus Blue Jackets), and Huntington Park (home of the AAA Columbus Clippers).  Local leaders don’t want a casino plopped into that vibrant, growing area of town and are trying to get Penn National to locate the casino somewhere else.  Other parts of Columbus, moreover, are eager to welcome a casino and the jobs that supposedly will accompany the casino’s construction and operation.  So far, I have heard reports about The Continent area, which is located north of downtown along I-71, Cooper Stadium, Scioto Downs, and Westland Mall as proposed alternative sites for a casino.

It is sad that there are parts of Columbus that are so desperate for jobs that they would welcome a casino.  I think they are dreaming, however, if they think Penn National is going to change the location without a knock-down, drag-out fight.  After all, the constitutional amendment was written specifically to require the casino to be built in the Arena District location, no doubt precisely because the Arena District is an exciting, busy place with an active night-life and lots of foot traffic.  And, so far as I can determine, Penn National would need to go through the cumbersome legislative and electoral process of undoing the constitutional amendment in order to build the casino at some other location.  Even if the other sites were as attractive as the Arena District site — and they clearly aren’t — why would Penn National want to spend the money to make such a change?

I strongly opposed Issue 3, and I will hate to see a casino built in Columbus.  However, unless civic leaders are willing to play hard ball with municipal services, precipitating a constitutional showdown that pits Columbus’ home rule powers against the constitutional provisions implemented by Issue 3, I think Columbus is just going to have to grit its teeth and accept a casino in the Arena District.