Schools to get 1st casino checks

Washington County’s public schools are slated to receive a total $191,229 as their share of a $37,953,632 distribution from the state’s casino tax this month.

The Jan. 31 payout is the first semi-annual payout to school districts since casinos began operating in Ohio last year.

Wolf Creek Local Schools will receive $11,569 from the tax, based on the district’s student population.

“It won’t make a big difference, but every pocket of money helps our budget,” said Wolf Creek Superintendent Bob Caldwell.

Matt Reed, treasurer for Marietta City Schools, agreed.

“We’re not expecting millions, although these numbers are expected to increase as the Columbus casino has not been operating for a full year, and the fourth casino has not yet opened,” he said.

With the highest student population in the county, Marietta schools will receive the largest distribution-$60,765.

“The money will go into our general fund for day to day operations,” Reed said. “And every little bit helps.”

Frontier Local Treasurer Frank Antill said he included the anticipated casino tax distribution in the school’s current budget. The district will receive $13,483.

“I put in $14,000, based on an estimate of $20 per student for 700 students,” he said. “To my knowledge that will be treated as just another revenue source and placed in the general fund.”

Antill noted original per-student estimates for the tax distribution ranged from $17 to $25.

Melcie Wells, treasurer for the Fort Frye and Warren local districts, forecast $19,950 for Fort Frye’s casino tax distribution in her five-year budget projection-the actual number will be $21,548 for the district on Jan. 31.

Wells said she estimated $48,300 for the Warren district budget, but the actual distribution, second-highest of the county school districts, will be $44,007.

As with the other districts, Wells said the monies will go into the general funds to help meet operational costs.

Washington County will also receive funding from the casino tax this month, amounting to $142,997. The county also received distributions in 2012 that totaled $161,499, according to Auditor Bill McFarland.

County distribution dates are quarterly-on or before July 31, Oct. 31, Jan. 31 and April 30.

“Counties received their first distribution during 2012 as the casinos got up and running,” McFarland said. “And like the schools, the amount we receive is population-based.”

But he noted the amount coming in from the casino tax will likely be less than what was originally touted by supporters of legislation that created the four Ohio casino sites.

“They visited every county in the state, lobbying for support,” McFarland said, adding that Washington County’s projected annual take was to be around $900,000.

“But we’re not going to hit that number because they didn’t factor in Internet cafes where people can still gamble online, and the state lottery commission established slot machines at Ohio racetracks, which is another gambling option outside the casinos,” McFarland said. “All of that has an impact on how much money will be spent on casino gambling.”

Because of those factors, the county was advised to knock off about 25 percent of the original estimated distribution amount as the 2013 budget was developed.

“The amount we estimated was $703,080 for this year’s budget,” McFarland said.

Gary Gudmundson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Taxation, said the department made some initial projections of distribution amounts in 2009, based on certain assumptions about the casino taxation.

“Not all of those projections panned out,” he said. “But not all of the casinos are open yet, so we only have a partial picture at this time.”

Ohio voters passed an amendment to the state constitution in 2009, allowing the development of four casinos in the state. The facilities are located in Cleveland, Toledo, Columbus and Cincinnati.

The first three establishments opened in 2012, and the Cincinnati casino is expected to open in March.

The Ohio Casino Control Commission licenses and regulates the casino operators, employees, and gaming-related vendors, according to the Ohio Department of Taxation website.

The taxation department administers the 33 percent gross casino revenue tax.

The tax revenue is split among seven funds benefiting the counties and certain large cities, school districts, host cities, the Casino Control Commission, the Ohio State Racing Commission, law enforcement training, and problem gambling and addictions.