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Published: Friday, 10/2/2009

Gaming exec: Toledo casino a sure bet

BY TOM TROY
BLADE POLITICS WRITER
Eric Schippers of Penn National Gaming said: 'Categorically, unequivocally, we will build at that site.' The land Mr. Schippers was talking about at yesterday's forum was 40 riverfront acres on Miami Street south of I-75 and adjacent to Rossford. Eric Schippers of Penn National Gaming said: 'Categorically, unequivocally, we will build at that site.' The land Mr. Schippers was talking about at yesterday's forum was 40 riverfront acres on Miami Street south of I-75 and adjacent to Rossford.
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A top official of a gaming firm gave ironclad-sounding assurances yesterday that a $250 million casino will rise on the banks of the Maumee River in East Toledo and that most of the workers will be hired locally if Issue 3 passes.

Eric Schippers, senior vice president of Penn National Gaming, was joined by former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andy Douglas, Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, and others in a morning forum yesterday to promote the casino initiative.

The event drew endorsements for its impact on jobs and gave Mr. Schippers and others the opportunity to try to dispel criticism that the casino will drag down the local economy.

"Categorically, unequivocally, we will build at that site. We are committed to building, absolutely, on that site," Mr. Schippers said during the two-hour meeting in the Fifth Third Center auditorium downtown.

"We are ready the day after if we are successful on Nov. 3 to start building," Mr. Schippers said. He said the fact that the acreage won't require lengthy preparation was one of the selling points for a parcel some have said is too small and too close to the I-75 ramps to accommodate large numbers of cars.

The site is 40 riverfront acres on Miami Street south of I-75 and adjacent to Rossford.

Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andy Douglas, once a key political figure in Toledo, promotes the casino. However, Jerry Chabler, a casino critic, called the former justice a ‘hired gun.' Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Andy Douglas, once a key political figure in Toledo, promotes the casino. However, Jerry Chabler, a casino critic, called the former justice a ‘hired gun.'
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Penn National Gaming of Wyomissing, Pa., which describes itself as the nation's third-largest publicly traded gaming company, is one of two businesses backing Issue 3 on the Nov. 3 ballot, along with Rock Ventures LLC, a holding company of businessman Dan Gilbert, who owns the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Penn National would run the casinos in Toledo and Columbus while Rock would operate the Cleveland and Cincinnati casinos.

About 30 people turned out for the presentation organized by Mr.

Douglas and Mayor Finkbeiner.

Mr. Archer said the three casinos have not caused a crime wave in Detroit and have provided needed jobs and tax revenue to the beleaguered city. Mr. Archer is an investor in Rock Ventures.

"If we did not have casinos throwing off $100 million, the city of Detroit would be in Chapter Nine bankruptcy," Mr. Archer said. "This casino will provide outstanding jobs to men and women who are unemployed in this great state."

Spectator Brian McMahon, developer of the Crossroads of America site in Rossford, criticized the site as too small for a casino and questioned whether it could get official approval for a location so close to the I-75 interchange.

Mr. Schippers said the site is large enough, and said Penn National was committed to building in the city of Toledo. He said city leaders in Youngstown, Akron, and Dayton are upset at not being included.

He said the casino will hire locally and will buy blocks of rooms in existing hotels rather than build its own, and will operate a dedicated shuttle to the future Marina District across the river from downtown in East Toledo. He also said the casino would set its food and beverage prices so as not to undercut local businesses.

"It is crazy to think we're going to airlift labor from Las Vegas," Mr. Schippers said.

He said the casino will have a Hollywood theme, similar to that of its riverboat casino in Lawrenceburg, Ky.

Critics have said the casino will bring in workers from out of state, and have blasted the $50 million one-time license fee and the annual 33 percent tax on gross revenue as paltry.

Mr. Schippers said Michigan's tax rate is 19 percent and Indiana's is 32 percent. Pennsylvania's is 58 percent but the state only has slots gaming, he said, adding that the Pennsylvania legislature is eyeing a tax rate of 12 to 20 percent for full-service casinos. Mr. Schippers said the state had a $50 million fee but said casino operators can use it to get a tax credit.

Louis Bauer, former mayor of Rossford who now lives in Perrysburg, said Rossford will be hit with traffic and public safety expenses, and he also said the city is in a position to make the development difficult.

"I think it's a bad site for Rossford. For Toledo to get $11 million and Rossford to get zero is neither fair nor equitable," Mr. Bauer said.

Audience member Carl Surtman, 67, of Point Place said he was concerned about the effects of enabling gambling addiction in families and the effect on crime. He said afterward he was still making up his mind.

Critics, such as Jerry Chabler of Sylvania, a member of the Ohio State Racing Commission, said the constitutional amendment doesn't mandate a casino in Toledo. He said the taxes and initial fees are too low. Mr. Chabler charged that Penn National is just after votes in northwest Ohio and doesn't intend to follow through with its casino.

"Why would they build a casino in Toledo, Ohio, when they're so close to Detroit that has casinos?" he asked. He labled former Justice Douglas a "hired gun," who has been long gone from Toledo.

And he said if the casino is built and Gov. Ted Strickland's plan to allow video slot machines at the race tracks is defeated, Raceway Park would close.

Mr. Schippers said through a spokesman yesterday that: "Penn will continue to operate Raceway Park if the casino issue is successful."

Also speaking in favor of the casino yesterday were Dennis Duffey, head of the Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council; Ken Lortz, state director of the United Auto Workers union; Bruce Rumpf, chief executive officer and president of Job1USA employment firm; James Hoffman, northwest Ohio president of KeyBank; Maumee Mayor Tim Wagener, and Oregon Mayor Marge Brown.

All touted the impact the casino construction and ongoing operations would have on the Toledo area's unemployment rate.

"To turn down this many jobs would be shocking and immoral," Mr. Wagener said.

Contact Tom Troy at:

tomtroy@theblade.com

or 419-724-6058.



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