Casino money best used for improvements

Wagering at Ohio’s four casinos has not brought in as much money as some supporters had hoped when the constitutional amendment cleared the way for their creation in 2009.

Still, so far this year the casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo have generated payments of about $1.2 million for Trumbull County. Last year, the casinos generated just less than $2.5 million for Trumbull County.

So far this year, Mahoning County has received almost $682,000, and last year it received about $1.41 million. (Mahoning County receives less than Trumbull because half of its proceeds, by statute, must go to Youngstown because the city’s population is more than 80,000.) The money is divided for use among Ohio’s 88 counties.

Trumbull County officials have expressed concern about declining casino revenue and say they’ve been advised by the Ohio Office of Budget and Management to reduce their projections.

State figures show actual casino tax collections for 2013 came in at $89.02 million, about $975,000 below the projected amount of just under $90 million. In 2014, the state collected $136.41 million, about $21.6 million below the projection of $158 million. This year, the state is projecting revenue of $168.98 million.

Locally, gross casino revenue to Trumbull County dropped to $580,878 in January from $629,403 a year ago in January 2014. But gross revenue paid out to Trumbull County in April of this year was actually up to $620,888, from $602,987 paid to Trumbull County in April 2014.

Taking all this into consideration, one thing is for certain: It would not be wise for government to bet on how much money gamblers will spend.

Knowing that, we have been generally pleased with the way Trumbull County officials have been spending the extra revenue generated by the casinos.

Rather than counting on it for day-to-day operating expenses, county leaders have instead opted to spend it on capital expenditures.

For example, Trumbull County spent $127,582 of its first-year revenues to purchase cruisers for the sheriff’s office and another $12,389 for equipment for the county jail. The second year, the county used $134,899 for cruisers and $48,733 for computers. Another $220,000 was used for building repairs. Capital expenditures paid with the 2014 income also included a needed $43,168 industrial washer-dryer set for the county jail.

Mahoning County, on the other hand, has banked the casino revenue – also not a bad idea if you can afford it.

It appears that both counties, so far, have done the right thing with the money. Spending casino revenue on capital improvements rather than attempting to utilize it for general operations, or saving it for future capital improvement needs, are the right things to do. The flux of the amount of revenue shows that this money cannot be counted on, but should be used for improvements and upgrades to equipment and buildings now or later.