Gongwer: Gaming Industry Launches Effort To Educate Presidential Candidates With Columbus Roundtable
By Mikel Livingston
Stressing the gaming sector’s economic impact, casino advocates kicked off an effort Tuesday to educate presidential candidates and voters about the merits of the industry.
During the roundtable discussion, hosted by the American Gaming Association and held in Hollywood Casino Columbus, a panel of lawmakers, industry insiders and local residents fielded questions on the casino and its local impact since it opened in 2012.
“Over the next several months, Ohio and many other battleground states is going to get more business from these presidential candidates than you could possibly want,” AGA President and CEO Geoff Freeman said. “One thing we need to make sure that every one of them knows is what the role of this casino industry is.”
Panel members also included U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Columbus), U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Columbus), Haydocy Automotive President Chris Haydocy, Hollywood Casino General Manager Himbert Sinopoli, Hilltop YMCA Executive Director Al Obayuwana, and Hollywood Casino table games dealer Christina Green.
Coinciding with the discussion was the Tuesday release Oxford Economics study that spells out the economic impact casinos have had since they were legalized in Ohio through a 2009 constitutional amendment.
The study found that the commercial gaming industry:
• Had a total economic impact in Ohio of more than $3 billion in 2014, up from a $2.2 billion economic impact in 2013.
• Supported approximately 17,600 total jobs in Ohio that year, and approximately $682 million in total labor income, up from 13,913 jobs and approximately $546.7 million in total labor income from 2013.
• Generated approximately $917 million in total tax revenues that year, including $213.2 million in total state and local tax revenue, $216.9 million in federal tax revenues and $486.8 million in gaming taxes. That’s an increase over the $672.5 million in total tax impact the industry had in 2013.
Mr. Freeman said that’s the story the group will spend the next several months sharing with presidential contenders and the voters they’re trying to court on the campaign trail.
“It is awfully risky for our industry and for everyone in this room who is benefiting from this industry if those candidates continue to have what’s called an antiquated notion of what this industry is,” Mr. Freeman said.
Chris Haydocy, president of Haydocy Automotive, said Columbus’ Weston District – which in 2009 was named ‘most vacant district’ in the country thanks to its 67% vacancy rate – has improved since the casino moved in.
Mr. Haydocy said his dealership business took in $46 million in revenue in 2005, before dropping to a $24 million low in 2010 during the recession as Weston’s economy took a major hit. This year, he said, the company is on track to make $48 million. He attributed that turnaround in part to the casino boosting the local economy, although he qualified that by saying “the casino is not, in my opinion, a magic wand.”
Rep. Beatty praised casino managers for their community engagement thus far but urged both the casino management and the community to capitalize on more small business and entrepreneurial opportunities.
“For me, I’ve seen the change and I think that change continues to grow, but it takes the whole community to get engaged and to make sure we hold the casino folks true to their word,” Rep. Beatty said. “So it’s a partnership. From where I sit are there concerns? There’s always going to be some concerns.”
Rep. Stivers agreed that the casino has played a large role in providing jobs and boosting the local economy. But one needs only look across the street to the mostly abandoned Weston Mall, he said, to see the community still has work to be done.
“It’s a good start but we still have a long way to go to help the folks in this community,” Rep. Stivers said.
Near the end of the discussion, Hollywood Casino General Manager Himbert Sinopoli was asked whether the casino is still considering building an onsite hotel. He said he frequently receives that question from those hoping such an expansion would further the casino’s economic footprint.
“We do still have plans for a hotel,” Mr. Sinopoli said, adding he is “optimistic” even though no timeline is set.