Revenue tempers gambling fever for Ohioans

Ohioans probably should not be terribly concerned about the substantial dropoff in revenue – and thus, a reduction in tax income for local and state governments – at the state’s four gambling casinos between March and April.

But it is not too soon to worry about imprudent long-term reliance on gambling revenue.

Money has been pouring into local and state coffers from new casinos in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo. During the quarter ending March 31, the state collected $62.9 million in taxes from video and table gambling at the casinos. That was up from $52.4 million during the previous quarter.

But the state Casino Control Commission reported last week that total revenue for the four casinos, including that for their operators and to cover taxes, was $72.2 million in April – substantially lower than the $84.3 million in March.

The good news is the April numbers were much closer than March to “average” for the casinos. For some reason, March seemed to be a particularly good month for gambling operators.

If anything, the best may be yet to come for the operators and the local and state governments eager to rake in a new pot of revenue. Ohio’s casinos are still relatively new and may well grow. Tax income from them still has not reached the level of the four casinos in neighboring West Virginia, which paid more than $457 million in taxes last year.

But the Mountain State’s experience should be instructive to Ohioans in another way. Revenue, especially from table gambling, has been falling at three of West Virginia’s four casinos. Part of the reason is new competition from Ohio and Pennsylvania.

State officials have not been handling that well, in some ways. For example, there seems to be no strategic plan to deal with a continuing drop in gambling revenue, though one certainly seems to be on the horizon.

Even as local and state officials celebrate new revenue from Ohio’s casinos and look forward to bigger and better returns in the future, then, they should be engaged in long-range planning.

The “easy money” probably will not continue flowing in forever.