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Published: Tuesday, 5/28/2013 - Updated: 2 years ago

Toledo casino marks its 1st year of gaming amid mixed reviews

Revenues fail to live up to expectations

Patrons play table games during the Hollywood Casino one year anniversary celebration. Patrons play table games during the Hollywood Casino one year anniversary celebration.
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One year ago, thousands descended for the grand opening of the city’s newest attraction: the glittering, jingling Hollywood Casino Toledo.

Patrons clogged the parking garage and briefly backed up I-75 as they piled into the gaming palace on the banks of the Maumee River on May 29, 2012.

Just a couple years before, in 2009, voters approved four Ohio casinos. Toledo was the second to open its doors — trailing Cleveland by a couple of weeks and preceding Columbus, which opened in October, and Cincinnati, launched this spring.

Fast-forward one year and the novelty has waned. But the slot machines still flash and jingle, and some, such as Jenny Evans of Washington Court House, Ohio, are still stopping in for the first time.

Ms. Evans squeezed in her inaugural visit to the Toledo casino recently before heading north to catch a flight out of Detroit. Opening casinos in Ohio was a good idea, she said. It adds jobs and means she can stay in state when she wants to gamble. “I had to go to Indiana before,” she said.

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Industry analysts and government officials said Ohio’s gambling scene is still in its fledgling stage — too new to measure the long-term impact or project with certainty how much revenue the 33 percent tax that casinos pay will generate for schools, cities, counties, and other agencies.

“The one thing we’ve been saying is that really to get a benchmark is to have all four of them open for a year, to really compare an April to an April, to see what trends are,” said Tama Davis, Ohio Casino Control Commission spokesman.

Revenue patterns

From their openings through April, Ohio’s casinos pulled in $615.7 million in adjusted gross revenue. Toledo accounts for $181 million of that, according to commission reports.

The local casino started with a bang, raking in $20.4 million in June, 2012, its biggest revenue month to date. Revenues slid to November’s low of $13.6 million but since rebounded, climbing to $17.8 million in March before dipping slightly last month to $16.4 million.

Hundreds of people dance as The Temptations Review performs on stage during the Hollywood Casino one year anniversary celebration Friday. Hundreds of people dance as The Temptations Review performs on stage during the Hollywood Casino one year anniversary celebration Friday.
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That’s the pattern casino officials said they expected: a beginning bonanza, a tapering off, and then a bump as customer loyalty programs grow.

“I would just say, overall we’re very pleased with year one,” casino spokesman John McNamara said.

General Manager Richard St. Jean declined to comment through Mr. McNamara, who would not provide operation statistics until a news conference scheduled for Wednesday to discuss the first year.

Missing the mark

The city of Toledo received $2.9 million in tax revenue from casinos in 2012 and roughly $1.4 million so far this year. It estimated $3.4 million in revenue for last year, and $4.95 million for this year, city spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei said. She blamed delays that backed up the casino’s opening date for the less-than-expected revenue in 2012.

A 2009 estimate presented by the Ohio Department of Taxation anticipated $643 million yearly in casino tax revenue once all four casinos were operational and $470 million from seven video-lottery terminal facilities at horse-racing tracks.

Revenues have lagged behind those early estimates.

“In hindsight, some of the assumptions that were built into that estimate really didn’t materialize as the market developed,” said Gary Gudmundson, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Taxation.

He said market saturation “might have been underestimated,” and the economy’s slow recovery may affect how people spend money.

Experts cite competition from the state’s “racinos” — two are open and five are in development — as one reason projections pointed too high.

Racinos cannibalized casino revenues, said Alan Silver, an assistant professor in Ohio University’s restaurant, hotel, and tourism program who’s worked in the casino industry.

He pointed to the amount of work required in a short time to open multiple gambling sites and develop regulations.

“It’s been a heck of a ride for the first year,” he said. “The industry is very new here. Like any new business, it takes time.”

On-site offerings

With the initial frenzy fading, the state’s casinos are trying to entice loyal customers to keep returning by adjusting the mix of games, tracking player habits, and holding special events, Mr. Silver said.

Toledo’s casino launched its outdoor summer concert series Friday with the Spinners and the Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards. Concert-goers filled roughly half the seats and grooved along to the Motown sounds as the sun sank like a big gold coin over the river.

Mr. McNamara said concerts are one aspect of the “all-encompassing” entertainment options that the casino aims to offer.

“That’s been something we’ve wanted to do since we all got on the ground here, since prior to opening,” he said.

Temperance, Mich. residents Chris and Paul Szymanski, center and right, smile as they play blackjack along with Chicago, Ill. resident Shane Engels. Temperance, Mich. residents Chris and Paul Szymanski, center and right, smile as they play blackjack along with Chicago, Ill. resident Shane Engels.
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Crime concerns

Before the casino opened, some worried about its impact on problem gambling and crime. Toledo police Capt. Brad Weis, who oversees responses to the casino, said problems diminished after the first couple of months when off-duty officers began to provide additional security. Rossford police Chief Glenn Goss said fears over an influx of drugs or prostitution have not materialized.

“There hasn’t really seemed to be a marked increase in any local criminal activity due to the casino,” he said.

There have been charges brought against individuals for casino-related crimes such as cheating, underage entry, and theft. A total of 163 charges have been brought against people at Ohio casinos, including 52 charges stemming from the Toledo site, according to the casino control commission.

The commission also runs a voluntary exclusion program, which allows gamblers to ban themselves from the state’s casinos. The program had 365 participants by mid-May. In Lucas County, 47 people asked to be put on the list, as well as one in Fulton, two in Defiance, 12 in Wood, one in Seneca, and 56 from Michigan.

The casino has provided a boost to Toledo, from adding jobs to generating tourism and supporting community events, Ms. Sorgenfrei said.

Mixed reviews

It drew mixed feedback from one neighbor, who didn’t know what to expect when construction began across the street from the home she’s lived in for a decade. Rita Allen of Toledo said the first week the casino opened, people parked all over her side street. That hasn’t happened much since, except for one winter day during a truck giveaway.

She occasionally spots people walking up and down the street: “You can tell when they are lost because they pace back and forth,” she said. Sometimes car horns in the parking garage blast annoyingly. Still, she goes over to the casino to meet up with friends and enjoys the entertainment.

“It’s been OK. They have not been lousy neighbors, let’s put it that way,” she said.

And yet.

“Had I known that was going across the street, I would not have bought this house,” Ms. Allen said.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.

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