Place your bets, Ohioans - casino gambling has come to the Buckeye State. Will it live up to its promises of thousands of new jobs and an influx of revenue for local and state governments? Will problem gambling soar? Will Ohioans receive a fair share of the proceeds?
The first of four Ohio casinos authorized in a 2009 referendum opens today in Cleveland. Within a few months, three others will begin operating in Columbus, Toledo and Cincinnati. Video slot machines soon will be humming at several racetracks.
When voters approved casinos, they were swayed by promises of new jobs and new revenue for localities and state government that faced severe budget crunches. Indeed, the jobs are materializing; about 1,600 people were hired for the Cleveland casino alone. It is expected to pump about $100 million a year into local and state government coffers.
Beyond any doubt, the number of problem gamblers in Ohio will increase. Though some gambling revenue is earmarked to help them, state officials should keep a close, objective eye on the problem. If more resources are needed, they should be provided.
Also meriting attention in the future are the percentages of gambling proceeds that go to local and state governments. Though those rates are locked in for several years, legislators should monitor the enormous profits gambling interests will reap in the Buckeye State. As soon as possible, they should look into increasing government's share of the "take."