Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Could $64M for schools, govs be endangered if Columbus Stands Up to Penn National casino plan?

Penn National Gaming (PNG), backers of a $250 million casino in Columbus, contradicts claims made on a new Web site launched Monday by opponents that claims key local business leaders were not consulted for their input before the authorizing amendment to the Ohio Constitution, known as Issue 3, was subjected to a statewide vote this November.

Issue 3 authorized building a casino each in Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland and Toledo at specific geographic coordinates and won 53 percent of the statewide vote. Voters in Franklin County, who opposed it by 58 percent, are being marshaled by a new city-wide group in Franklin County -- Stand Up Columbus! (SUC) -- that wants to dissuade PNG from building its Central Ohio casino where voters statewide approved building it, to an alternative site within the county.

Claims, corrections on who met with who and when

Former Franklin county commissioner and president of the local and national Fraternal Order of Police, Dewey Stokes, now a co-chair of SUC, said on the Web site, "...all of us agree it's not right that an out-of-town casino operator – without any community input -- gets to decide where a casino will be built in our city."

In a statement provided to this Examiner from PNG's Ohio spokesman Bob Tenenbaum, it appears key local leaders were not left out in the cold on the issue as much as some say they were.

"We have heard the allegation from this newly formed affiliate of Mr. Wolfe's and the Columbus Partnership that we did not seek community input on our site prior to the election. We find that curious given that we met personally with Mike Curtin of the Dispatch before Issue 3 was qualified for the November ballot and discussed the Arena District site. We also extended the same courtesy to Mr. Brian Ellis at Nationwide. We figured that given Nationwide's prior involvement in a proposed casino project in Pittsburgh's Arena District, he would understand the merits of our plan."

Contrary to protestations made by Curtin on a local radio talk show Tuesday morning that PNG ignored or failed to take into consideration community concerns, PNG sought to correct that viewpoint, saying it has spent considerable time in Columbus listening to the concerns of the local business community and local officials about the casino project.

The national casino operation wasted no time underscoring the job creation component of the project. PNG's prepared remarks noted it has "been meeting with our friends and supporters who are eager to get the thousands of new construction and permanent jobs" building the casino will create. Labor unions and the Fraternal Order of Police supported Issue 3, which promised to create 34,000 jobs.

Casino backers noted that Issue 3 contained site-specific criteria, and that any change in locations -- in Columbus or the other three Ohio cities who supported it -- would require a new statewide constitutional amendment.

PNG said that while it will "listen to our community, and will continue to do so in an open and inclusive manner," it will not do so "to the extent that those who were unsuccessfull on Nov. 3 seek to unreasonably delay or even try to kill our project and the thousands of new jobs and more than $64 million in new annual tax revenues it will generate for Columbus and Franklin County."

Local legislators assist Stand Up Columbus!

One local political leader, David Goodman, who joined Curtin by phone from Florida on WOSU's All Sides program today, readily acknowledged that the legislature didn't deal with the issue as it should have. Goodman has signed onto a constitutional amendment he says will preserve local control over casino developments.

“Cleveland, Toledo and Cincinnati voters should not be in a position to make development decisions for Columbus any more than Columbus residents should be weighing in on Cleveland projects,” Senator Goodman said in a statement. “This amendment gives local communities more control as Ohio takes its first steps into casino gaming.”

The effort, while it caters to the interests as expressed on SUC, can be seen by many as a Hail Mary pass of major proportions. If it vaults the high hurdles before it and becomes a statewide ballot issue, statewide voters, if convinced, will give voters in Franklin county another vote on whether they want a casino -- and the estimated $64 million in revenue sharing dollars that local governments and schools would benefit from -- in their county.

Locals want revenue sharing and new location

Communicating with this Examiner today, Goodman, a term-limited member of the Senate Republican caucus, said he is not inclined to trust Penn's estimates on revenue sharing, and that he "has never proposed any legislation that would take away a casino."

According to Goodman, his current proposal would "simply move the casino's location within the county" if a statewide vote allows local voters to decide whether they want their casino built where the constitutional amendment sites it.

The proposed Columbus casino is authorized to be built in Columbus' Arena District, an upscale retail and office area controlled by Nationwide Insurance that falls within the larger Downtown area. Bill Webster, Administrator for Downtown and Economic Development for the City of Columbus, said the Arena District is not specifically defined. Casino opponents say it should not be built where it's sited because the Arena District is a "family oriented" area and it would degrade the area while simultaneously devaluing the warren of residential properties located close by.

A larger issue is what recipients of revenue-sharing from the casino have to say if their share of gambling revenue doesn't flow to them if the casino is delayed or scrubbed.

$64 million in gambling revenue to flow to local schools, governments

Based on information on estimates of total casino revenue statewide provided by Tenenbaum, The Columbus Public Schools would receive an estimated $6.53 million per year in casino tax revenues. The total for all school districts in the county is $22.9 million.

Franklin County and City of Columbus would each receive an estimated $16.1 million a year. Columbus would also benefit from an additional amount as a casino host city – a proportional share of $13 million that will be divided among the four host cities based on the revenue of each casino.

CCS asked to weigh in on grassroots group, casino revenue sharing

A request to Kim Norris of the Columbus City Schools for a comment or statement on the launch of Stand Up Columbus! or on whether it thinks the $6.53 million it would gain every year would be endangered if local efforts to change the venue are successful were not received in time for this article.

Follow me on Twitter @ohionewsbureau. Read more stories on people, politics and government in Ohio here.


ssg127 said...

If you're interested, here are some MP3 links to the discussions:

The 10/30 show:

The view from Penn National:

Scott Gowans
WOSU Web Manager

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