Ohio's headlong jump into casino gambling is setting off alarms almost as loud as the wild sounds that erupt when gamblers hit a slot-machine jackpot. The problem: Not only is casino gambling exploding in Ohio, but the same is also happening in surrounding states and nationally.
Ohio’s headlong jump into casino gambling is setting off alarms almost as loud as the wild sounds that erupt when gamblers hit a slot-machine jackpot.
The problem: Not only is casino gambling exploding in Ohio, but the same is also happening in surrounding states and nationally.
Increased competition forced four Atlantic City, N.J., casinos to announce plans to close this year, while a Mississippi casino closed in June, and Delaware approved a $10 million bailout for its three struggling casinos.
If casinos stumble in Ohio, tax revenue that state and local entities depend on could be diminished.
One expert says count on it.
“These ventures in Ohio will be a disappointment,” said Harold Vogel of New York’s Vogel Capital Management and a gambling-industry analyst. “There are too many casinos, the market is fully saturated, and they’re cannibalizing each other.”
It wasn’t supposed to be this way when Ohio voters approved in 2009 the building of casinos in Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Toledo. Soon after, the state pushed plans through the Ohio Lottery to establish racinos — or casinos with slot machines and no table games — at Ohio’s seven racetracks.
A racino opened last week in Dayton, and when another opens next month in Youngstown, Ohio will have gone from zero to 11 glitzy gambling halls in a little more than two years.
The industry has spread across Ohio so quickly that analysis is difficult. There are 30 casinos or racinos within 200 miles of Columbus. And the Kentucky legislature is considering a move into gambling, something all of Ohio’s other neighbors — Indiana, Michigan and West Virginia — have done already.
Ten years ago, there were only nine gambling spots within that same radius.
The big question is this: What size of market can be sustained in Ohio, where gamblers once had to travel out of state to bet money legally? (And for the longest time, gambling meant hopping a plane for Las Vegas.)
“I don’t think you can answer that for two to five years. We haven’t scratched the surface in terms of our penetration yet,” said Troy Buswell, general manager of Scioto Downs Racino, when asked if all 11 gambling spots will make it.
“It’s not like you can flip a switch and hit the projections right out of the door; it takes time.”
Operators talk about expanding the market as they battle a slow start that also was impeded by a slow economy.
The new general manager of Hollywood Casino Columbus thinks Ohio can sustain its 11 casinos and racinos.
“It’s still an immature market, and it needs to develop,” said Himbert Sinopoli. “(Hollywood Columbus) is where we thought we’d be this year.”
Merely making money isn’t enough to ensure that casinos stay open. Casinos represent huge investments that demand a certain level of profit, which means lower-than-expected returns also raise concerns.
“The casinos will make enough to pay their employees and make a profit. That’s not a risk,” said Steve Gallaway, a principal of Gaming Market Advisors, a Denver gambling-industry research firm. “ The risk is, if they don’t increase their revenues, will their operators choose to keep them open?"
Central Ohio’s two gambling halls — Hollywood Casino Columbus and Scioto Downs Racino — are in a better position than most of the state’s other casinos and racinos because they face no border war, one analyst said.
Of course, Hollywood Casino expected to own the market before racinos became a reality, meaning both operations carve off revenue the other would have likely had to itself.
Northern and southern Ohio casinos knew they were in for a fight, with well-established casinos to the north in Detroit and to the south and west along the Ohio River in Indiana.
“The two central Ohio casinos are more geographically protected from out-of-state competition than the ones in the other (Ohio) cities,” said Daniel Holmes, a gambling analyst at RubinBrown, an accounting and business consulting firm.
Revenue from Ohio’s casinos and racinos was $1.1 billion in 2013, but only one racino and three casinos were open the entire year. Revenue for the first six months of this year was $695 million.
This is well below the almost $2 billion a year state officials and industry experts predicted back in 2009.
The state receives about a third of this in the form of taxes, and less-than-expected gambling revenue could affect counties, cities and schools that budgeted for a bigger payday.
“It hits me that 11 casinos is an awful lot for Ohio,” said Richard McGowan, a Boston College economics professor who follows the industry. “There seems to be too many in the Cincinnati and Cleveland areas, and to support them all, they’ll need a tremendous tourist trade — and I don’t see that happening.”
The U.S. has 975 casinos, including 460 tribal venues, said Joseph Weinert, senior vice president of Spectrum Gaming Group, a New Jersey-based gambling-industry consulting firm.
That’s a 31 percent jump since 2000, when the overall number was 746, he said. And the number keeps growing, with four casinos on the way in New York.
A report by RubinBrown found that states once viewed casinos as “a magic formula for increasing tax revenues.” But as the number of casinos increased, “this formula is no longer holding true."
“We still see the industry growing, but that’s only because states are bringing in new casinos that are boosting the overall revenue,” Holmes said. “And we’re seeing revenue go down in several states, such as Indiana and Pennsylvania, as more casinos open.”
This can be seen in Atlantic City, where gambling revenue plummeted from $5.2 billion in 2006 to $2.9 billion in 2013.
“The ones closing in Atlantic City were gigantic properties built for a much bigger demand, before all the regional gaming put pressure on them,” said Gallaway, the consultant in Denver. “ They didn’t have the money to reinvest and upgrade their properties, (so) they lost even more revenue, and it became a vicious cycle.”
Ohio casinos and racinos also have been taking revenue from one another as soon as a new one opens.
Revenue at Scioto Downs Racino topped the $13 million mark in each of its first two months of operation in 2012. After nearby Hollywood Columbus opened, revenue at Scioto Downs dipped to $10.3 million that month, $9.8 million the next and has not reached the $13 million mark since.
The trend continues, as Penn National Gaming, operator of Hollywood Columbus, said in a recent filing that the opening of Hollywood Gaming at the Dayton Raceway racino “may have an adverse impact on our Hollywood Casino Columbus facility.”
Penn operates the Hollywood chain of casinos and racinos, and CEO Timothy Wilmott said Ohio will be a $2 billion-a-year market by 2019 or 2020, “assuming no added competition from neighboring states.”