When Ohio voters gave casino gambling the go-ahead back in 2009, they also voted in the Bulldog Diner.
“I waited until the casino levy was passed and the site was picked and then I picked this spot just for that reason,” said Rob Socie, who opened the small diner on Rossford’s Superior Street in April, 2010.
Mr. Socie, a food industry veteran, was one of many hoping to catch some of the shine from the new gaming house. He hasn’t quite hit the jackpot, but he’s seeing a steady payout.
“I have to admit, I’m a little bit disappointed in the amount of patrons we’re getting that are coming here to eat. But we’re getting them, and we’re getting them almost daily,” he said. “The numbers are real small, a couple here, a couple there, but I think a year from now that will have grown.”
Mr. Socie figures most of the people he’ll draw away from the casino are those looking to save a little money on lunch or dinner compared to the casino’s in-house choices.
“We’re getting people discovering us all the time,” he said. “My biggest problem is I don’t know how to advertise to them because they’re coming from everywhere.”
Six months after the Hollywood Casino Toledo first opened its doors, many area business owners and tourism groups say that while the casino isn’t going to make them rich, it is generating a small but noticeable increase in business.
“Every bit of business helps,” said Catharine Janick, owner of Urban Flowers in downtown Rossford.
Ms. Janick said casino officials have placed orders to send to their employees, and she has gotten orders from some of the casino’s 1,200 employees. She’s also done centerpieces for events there.
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Though fears about extra traffic choking the small city have not materialized, Ms. Janick said she has seen some people drawn to downtown businesses while in town for the casino. She points to one out-of-town woman who placed an order for flowers while her sister gambled at the casino.
“It was just in her normal routine of what she had to get done for that week, and she didn’t care to gamble so they came into town,” Ms. Janick said. “That’s definitely a good sign.”
So far, no one has done any research into how many dollars the casino has generated for the area economy. The Ohio Casino Control Commission compiles monthly reports that track how much money gamblers have wagered at each of Ohio’s casinos, but that doesn’t take into account spending at places such as hotel, gas stations, or local restaurants.
Bill Wersell, vice president of business development at the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, said no one anticipated a multitude of high-rollers streaming into town, running up huge tabs at local restaurants and leaving with new cars. But Mr. Wersell does see 1,200 additional workers in the economy and some anecdotal evidence that at least a handful of casino patrons are spending money outside Hollywood Casino’s walls.
Perhaps most striking to him is what isn’t being seen.
“I think the most significant part of this is there were so many people anticipating all these bad things coming from the casino. I haven’t seen any of those bad things at all,” Mr. Wersell said. “They’re a good neighbor to the city, to Rossford, to the whole business community. They’ve done what they said they were going to do.”
Concerns that Hollywood Casino’s four in-house restaurants would take business away from establishments in downtown Toledo also seem to have evaporated for the time being.
“I’m a regular at the downtown restaurants,” Mr. Wersell said. “As a customer I’ve gotten to know a lot of the owners. Nobody’s complained that the casino has taken their business way.”
But not everyone agrees.
Carla Whiteman has tended bar at Danny’s Cafe in Rossford off and on since 2000. On a recent Monday evening, she pointed to the row of empty bar stools when asked how the casino had affected the bar’s business.
“It’s definitely had a negative impact,” she said. “A lot of our regulars are going there.”
In response, the bar doubled its dollar beer promotion from two hours to four hours hoping to get more patrons through the door. On this day, only two men were sipping from their bottles.
“Last year at this time I would go through easily three or four cases of beer,” Ms. Whiteman said. “We’re halfway through and I’ve sold eight beers.”
Tony Mansell, operator of Manta Cars, a taxi service based about a half-mile from the casino, said he picks up some business from the casino now and then, but it hasn’t provided him any big jump in fares.
“It has helped some ... but I don’t think it’s made a lot of people a lot of money,” he said. “It certainly hasn’t made me any money.”
Pat McGrady, president of the Rossford Business Association, said the casino has become a big supporter of the association and has been diligent about being a good community partner. Mr. McGrady sees more opportunities for local businesses to serve the casino’s workers than its customers.
“The customer going to the casino is going there for two or three reasons,” Mr. McGrady said. “For an entertainment factor if they’re going to listen to a band, they’re going to have a meal, they’re going to go there and gamble.”
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Mr. McGrady runs the Cold Stone Creamery & Blimpie located off Fremont Pike in Rossford — about seven miles away from the casino. He thinks it unlikely many out-of-town visitors are going to venture down to his store. But he does offer 10 percent off to casino employees.
One sector that has seen a measurable impact are the region’s hotels.
Mary Helge, general manager at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Rossford, said hotel guests are coming from Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Ohio. Most stay one night, and she’s seen a “significant” increase in occupancy, but wouldn’t provide numbers.
“It’s really great for the area. I‘m seeing a lot of them using the local restaurants,” she said.
Ms. Helge expects casino-related business to slow down in the winter because of the holidays and the weather, but said she’s receiving more inquiries about bus group travelers.
Overall, hotel occupancy in Lucas County’s 44 hotels is up five percent year-over-year. Rich Nachazel, president of Destination Toledo Inc., the area's convention and visitors bureau, said some of that is attributable to the casino, though there are other factors as well.
In an impromptu survey last week, Mr. Nachazel checked in with nine hotels in the vicinity of the casino. Eight of the nine said they were seeing casino business, ranging from three or four room nights per month up to 50 room nights per month.
“It’s a real variety,” he said. “The good news is it seems like nearly every hotel is getting some economic impact from the casino, some on a larger scale than others.”
Blade staff writer Vanessa McCray contributed to this report.
Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6134.