Splitting the winnings

Ohio schools reap funds from casinos

Photo by Pritam Jaipuriar

Mason City Schools is getting a piece of the jackpot. Gambling and casinos now indirectly provide some of the latest funds for Ohio’s school districts.

“We are not in a position to support school events, PTO fundraisers, youth sports teams or any program where children are the benefactor, regardless of the audience at the event,” The Horseshoe Casino website states.

But after the Ohio Casino Amendment, or Issue 3, was passed in 2009, one of the stipulations of opening casinos in Ohio was to allot money for public schools. Along with directing money toward schools, cities, and county governments, the amendment in the Ohio Constitution called for the creation of the Ohio Casino Control Commission, “to ensure the integrity of casino gaming.”

According to the Ohio Casino Control Commission, 33% of a casino’s yearly revenue is split into different categories of taxes. 51% of that money is then sent to the 88 county governments while 34% is sent to the public schools.

According to a Cincinnati Enquirer analysis, $130.6 million of the casino tax money has been distributed to schools. A $776,687 piece of that has gone to Mason City Schools. While still another financial gain, the casino tax dollars coming to the district are only a small fraction of the district’s $100 million operating budget, according to Public Information Officer Tracey Carson.
“This won’t have a large impact on our bottom line,” Carson said.

Even though it’s only about 0.78% of the budget, according to Carson, the money is being used to reduce the operating deficit.
“We have been actively reducing costs, and typically most of our cost reductions end up impacting people,” Carson said. “[Now] we have 160 fewer employees than three years ago. Our goal has been to try to keep staff reductions as far away from the classroom as possible, though class sizes have increased since 2010.”

Tax revenue and job creations were some of the major incentives for passing Issue 3. The Cincinnati Horseshoe Casino has created over 3000 jobs, according to Caesars Entertainment, and completed its one year anniversary last March, with a first year of revenue $217.2 million. Although this was $22 million short of the predictions, according to Caesars Entertainment director of public relations Shannon Mortland, the Ohio gaming industry will see improvements.

“The Ohio market is still in flux, but we believe the market is healthy and has room forgrowth,” Mortland said. “We modeled this casino with the long-term in mind. We expect to see the market realize its full potential in the coming years.”

Whatever the winnings, distributions end up impacting the schools, even if only slightly. According to Tracey Carson, even though Mason City Schools isn’t “buying anything” with the extra money, the district hopes to keep costs down.

“We’re grateful that the legislature thought of us in the casino revenue stream because every little bit helps,” Carson said.

 

*Published in the 2014 May issue of The Chronicle

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