Don’t rely too much on casino revenue

Ohioans should not be surprised the jackpot they were promised from the state’s four gambling casinos doesn’t exist. In a way, however, Buckeye State taxpayers are lucky: They are not getting hooked on enormous revenue from legalized gambling, only to see it dwindle.

All four of the casinos, in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo, are at least a year old. That is time enough to give policymakers an idea of how the gambling venues will perform in the future.

When voters were asked to approve casino gambling, they were told the money would roll in to local and state governments. During the 2009 campaign by gambling interests, figures as high as $1.9 billion a year in total revenue were flashed in front of voters’ eyes.

That would have meant $651 million a year for local and state governments – quite a haul.

Reality has been far different. By the end of January, after all four casinos had been open for a year or more, their total revenue was $772 million, according to a report by the Ohio Casino Control Commission. At that rate, the first full year of operation will net about $900 million.

Of that, a comparatively paltry $297 million – less than half of what had been predicted – will go to government.

Other states with full-scale legalized gambling, including West Virginia, at one time received far more than Ohio from casinos, gambling machines and ticket-based lotteries. That convinced some of their leaders to rely too heavily on gambling income.

Now, because of competition from other states, including Ohio, West Virginia’s gambling revenue has plunged. State officials have no plan to replace it.

At least Ohioans do not have as far to fall in terms of the inevitable decline in gambling revenue in the future. This week’s report is a wake-up call telling state officials to ensure Ohio does not become too reliant on casino revenue.