Ohio should collect more from casinos

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register 

WHEELING, W.Va. — Legalized casino gambling in Ohio has followed a trail worn well in other states.

First, promise voters enormous riches if they approve table gambling and electronic slot machines. Second, convince state officials to grant tax breaks so casinos can compete against gambling meccas in other states.

And third, when revenue and new jobs fall below what was promised, argue that rescinding tax breaks will make it more difficult to attract gamblers – reducing revenue even more.

Before Ohio voters approved casino gambling in 2009, proponents claimed the industry would pump $500 million in new taxes a year into local governments and schools. They also said 34,000 new jobs could be expected.

But with four casinos and seven horse racing tracks with video gambling machines open, both revenue and jobs have fallen far short of those numbers.

In fact, revenue from taxing the gambling centers was just $267 million last year – about half what was promised.

After gambling interests won their initial victory, they went back to legislators with the all-too-expected plea for a tax break. In 2011 they got it in the form of an exemption from taxes for gambling credits the casinos use to attract customers. In exchange, the gambling houses agreed to pay the state about $11 million a year for 10 years.

But according to one estimate, that break has cost the state about $165 million already.

Upset about broken promises, some lawmakers want to rescind the break. Again predictably, gambling companies say that will hurt their ability to compete.

Sit down for this:?Some casino operators say it is unfair to hold them to the 2009 jobs and revenue claims because, in the words of one, that was “years ago in a totally different climate …”

Indeed it was. In fact, it was at the height of the “Great Recession.” Ohio is beginning to pull out of that – and, if anything, more revenue than promised in 2009 should be expected.

Legislators are right to be upset at the broken promises. They should restore the tax on gambling credits, to salvage at least something from the period when they relied on what gambling interests promised.

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