Gambling away the future

Garrison Ebie

Issue 3 passed in Ohio. As a result, the state will soon open its doors to four casinos in the hopes they will bring some assistance to a crippled economy. What most voters didn’t take into account, though, was the fine print that will probably turn the whole deal into a big mess.

There’s a good argument out there that the state deregulating casinos is a good thing. After all, who are they to say that I can’t gamble all my money away after a long night of boozing at some lowbrow casino if I feel like it? This is America! We do what we want, right? Unfortunately, the people who are in control of the casinos made out like bandits while the rest of us are stuck with our thumbs in a delicate place.

Ohio received a crappy deal right from the start, judging from the tax figures. Remember the campaign that said we should “Keep our Ohio dollars in Ohio” or something like that? Each of the four proposed casinos is only held liable to a 33 percent tax. This is the lowest tax rate of any casino in the United States. Comparatively, Rhode Island casinos need to fork over 71 percent of their earnings. Most of what’s bound to be lost will, in fact, inevitably fall into the hands of out-of-state investors.

Who’s backing these casinos, anyway? One is Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, and the other is Penn National Gaming, which judging by the number of casinos it owns, is probably not affiliated with Ohio in too many ways other than these facilities. I guess Ohio citizens will receive what little bit falls through the cracks. But really, folks, we’ve been screwed.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself by inferring the casinos already exist. They don’t. Actually, there is nothing in the legislation that actually requires the investors to build anything at the proposed sites. Right now, they just own the licenses to operate the casinos in Ohio. What this means is simple – it’s a casino monopoly. Organized casino nights at churches, recreation centers or fraternal organizations are not allowed anymore.

Furthermore, there was no competitive bidding for the casino licenses, which could have given Ohio hundreds of millions of dollars more. The licensing fee for each casino was only $50 million compared to $250 million in Indiana.

Allowing these casinos to be built according to the set plans in the state constitution really makes our state look terrible. I know Ohio is desperate for something – anything – to rid itself of this figurative black eye and bring unemployment percentages back into the single digits. But by using casinos to achieve that goal, we’ve totally failed.

I think Ohio Sen. George Voinovich said it best by claiming, “By any statistical measure, Issue 3 is a rip off.”

What about those 34,000 jobs that are supposed to be created? Honestly, this number sounds like just a smidge of an exaggeration. I think a better question is how many jobs are going to be lost.

Consider the possibility of a behemoth entertainment complex where people can eat, drink, sleep, gamble, drink more, get a hotel room, then wake up and do it again. They won’t want to leave. With few stipulations governing what these things can and can’t do, we’re talking about the Walmart of distractions to life. Casinos can provide entertainment cheaper and more efficiently than anywhere else around town.

This may or may not happen, but unintended consequences on the local economies surrounding places like the flats in Cleveland, where one casino is to be built, are bound to happen. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Back to the Future II,” just check out what Biff Tannen did to Hill Valley. Or for a more realistic example, notice how casinos did nothing at all to revitalize Detroit.

These casinos offer the false hope of fortunes, disguised as a convenient and close-to-home option that is the savior to all our economic woes. This was on the ballot four times before and failed four times for a good reason – it won’t do anything but trick the gullible into spending more than they have.

Garrison Ebie is a senior electronic media production major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].