Surrounding states losing money as many Ohio gamblers opt to stay home

By Paula Schleis and Rick Armon
Beacon Journal staff writers

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Her bus trips used to foray into Pennsylvania once a month.

Now, Columbus and Toledo are the primary destinations for the gambling excursions Akron resident Donna White organizes.

The Ohio casinos are a hit with her seniors, most associated with the Knights of Columbus, because they don’t have to deal with cigarette smoke. State law prohibits people from lighting up.

People also like that their money is staying in the state.

“They say they’re going to go anyway, so they might as well do it in Ohio, and we might as well reap the benefits,” White said.

If recent reports from Ohio’s neighbors are any indication, that’s what’s happening.

Pennsylvania — where 11 casinos have made it the country’s second-biggest gambling market behind Las Vegas — was a particularly popular destination for Ohio gamblers. But there are fewer Ohio license plates in the parking lots these days.

The Gaming Control Board reported revenue from Pennsylvania slot machines fell $9 million last month when compared to the same period last year — a 4 percent decrease and the fourth consecutive month of decline.

Hardest hit are two casinos near Ohio’s border.

Presque Isle Downs and Casino in Erie — less than two hours from Horseshoe Casino Cleveland — lost 16 percent of its gross revenue when comparing last month to April 2012. The Meadows Racetrack and Casino near Washington, Pa. — about 2½ hours from Hollywood Casino Columbus across Interstate 70 — lost 10 percent in the same period.

Richard McGarvey, a gambling board spokesman, said there’s no doubt Horseshoe Cleveland has hurt Presque Isle.

“They knew even before Cleveland opened they’d probably see a 20 percent reduction, so it’s not a big surprise,” he said.

In general, everyone is getting a smaller share of the gambling pie as new casinos continue to open. States east of Pennsylvania are opening casinos at a brisk pace, and Pennsylvania will bring its 12th on line this summer.

“The East Coast market has changed a lot in the last couple of years,” McGarvey said.

Ohio gamblers also are turning away from previously favored locales in West Virginia: Wheeling Island and Mountaineer. The state had little competition for nearly two decades.

But a recent report said revenue at Mountaineer dropped almost 16 percent in the last quarter of 2012 compared with the previous year, and Wheeling’s table games are on track to lose $1 million this year.

Last year, Indiana officials said they were bracing to lose as much as $100 million in tax revenue in the first year after all four Ohio casinos opened. Cincinnati’s casino is just a half-hour drive from a popular riverboat casino in Lawrenceburg, Ind.

Meanwhile, the Toledo casino is having an impact on three Detroit competitors 60 miles away. Michigan recently reported a 14 percent drop in revenue from the Detroit casinos.

Ohio’s neighbors are not rolling over, however. Some Pennsylvania casinos have been busy upgrading their properties, and West Virginia’s legislature created a fund to help casinos buy new slot machines.

Truth be told, Ohioans aren’t totally ready to let go of them, either.

White, the Akron-area bus organizer, said she’ll be taking her fellow gamblers out of state two or three times a year: “We like a change of scenery.”

Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or Follow her on Twitter at

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