Ohio Casino Education Funds: Easy Money That’s More Than Zero By Jeffrey Compton March 26, 2014 at 10:40 pm Over the past month I have been reading negative articles about Ohio casinos, specifically about the distribution of casino tax dollars to local school systems. Counting on casino revenue? Local governments told it’s risky Casinos fall short of vows to voters How much casino money do schools receive? To believe these reports, the checks are nowhere near what the school systems expected, and the ills from the casinos far outweigh any benefits the schools are receiving. The subtext is “gullible Ohio voters got screwed again”, as if the only reason casinos were approved was the belief that they would be the magic bullet to cure all school funding woes. I was not living in Ohio when the state voters approved casino gambling, so I can’t say definitively what Buckeyes were thinking at the time, but the people I have talked with in last few days told me that they voted for casinos because they like casinos. Or they knew that there were casinos (or racinos) in four of the five states surrounding Ohio, and thought gaming money should stay in Ohio instead of going elsewhere. Talking to my friends, it sounds like very few Ohioans voted for casinos because they expected lots and lots of taxes and fees would go to local schools. This is Ohio, not Macau. Four new casinos in the state are not going to provide all that much tax money. Plus most of us still remember the “education bill of promises” presented when the Ohio Lottery was approved in the 1970s. That was sold as a major education funder, but through the years the state decreased other education funds and used the lottery money as a replacement, not an increase, in what went to schools. So I don’t believe that expectations for casino education funds were high to begin with. But now that the casinos have been open for over a year, I wanted to know more about how schools feel about the matter. I called two Ohio school district treasurers, one in Berea (the town I live in) and the other in Brecksville (the school system I grew up in, and where my wife Norma Foote taught for thirty years). I received friendly and almost identical answers. Both systems have received casino monies amounting to about 0.5% of their annual budgets ($320,000 to Berea, $150,000 to Brecksville). Both systems put the money into their general fund (as opposed to earmarking it for a specific project), but as one of the treasurers told me, “With all the decreases we have due to property re-evaluations you can bet something good wasn’t cut because of these funds.” Would they have liked the monies to be higher? Of course – but unlike other forms of school funding the casino funds are “easy money that’s more than zero. We did not know what to expect, so every penny is a nice surprise. We did not have to fill out fifty forms to get it or hire any new staff members to keep it – it came with no mandates.” It should be said that neither of these towns are near any of the four casinos (or the two new racinos in Cuyahoga County), so they have no concerns with possible local downsides: heavier traffic, loss of business by local restaurants, etc. The two treasurers did have the same main concern: After being open for a year, the four casinos are losing business to the six racinos that have recently opened, and will lose more to the three other racinos that will open later this year. “We don’t get money from the racinos,” said one of the treasurers, “though through that not their fault. Because they have video lottery terminals instead of slot machines, all their tax and fee money goes directly to the Ohio Lottery Commission – and we may see some of it at the end.” So, yes local school districts are concerned about decreasing dollars from gaming – but don’t fault the casinos, or the voters.