• Atlantic City could be harbinger for NWI casinos

    In the 1970s, the fading resort town of Atlantic City, New Jersey, got an idea to reverse its fortunes: legalize gambling and create a bastion of casinos that would attract visitors from across the Northeast. It worked pretty well.

    That is, until a lot of smaller communities got the same idea and opened their own casinos, taking customers away from Atlantic City. Now, the city is under emergency management, much like Detroit was before it declared bankruptcy, and there’s much speculation that Atlantic City is on the same path.

    The casino industry in Northwest Indiana is hardly Atlantic City, which at its peak was revered as the East Coast’s Las Vegas. Still, the same fate could very well come to pass here, and it would still hurt on some level.

    Despite casinos being the most lucrative business in Lake County, the Horseshoe and Ameristar only employ about 2600 people between them, which is a relatively small amount in a population of nearly half-a-million. But as I’ve discussed before, the big thing casinos bring to the state is tax money. Lots of it.

    Every time Chicago faces a budget problem, talk of legalizing gambling in the city comes up, and the Region casinos all hold their breath. So far, it’s never come to pass, but it seems more like a matter of when, not if, the city comes around to it. Several other states have legalized it in some form, if not outright. Online gambling is thriving so well that some states are proposing laws taxing it. Heck, pro sports, one of the last institutions you’d think would want to get involved with gambling, are opening up to it.

    Should Chicago ever finally implement gambling, and—God forbid—draw away enough customers to put Northwest Indiana’s casinos out of business, there goes a good chunk of local tax money. Making up for that shortfall would require a) instituting a new tax elsewhere, b) accepting the shortfall and possibly going into the red, or c) cutting yet more services. In any case, it will affect residents.

    Maybe this will happen soon, maybe it’s a long way off. But it seems like a fool’s bet to say it won’t ever happen.

  • Casino money is a gold mine for state, local budgets

    In Illinois as well as many other corners of this country, talk of opening casinos or legalizing gambling always seems to arise when states are at a budget impasse. And honestly, it’s a wonder more casinos don’t dot the landscape of this country.

    Here in Lake County, the Horseshoe Hammond employs about 1500 people, and the Ameristar in East Chicago has just under 1100 employees. For a county of 490,000 (about 75% of which are 18 and older, or working age), that doesn’t put a huge dent in the total employment figures, not to mention the possibility that surely some workers might be from surrounding counties in Illinois or Indiana. Still, casino jobs are highly in demand in the area, and are certainly a benefit for those who hold them.

    The real impact is in taxes, however. Indiana casinos pay two types of taxes. The larger wagering tax is split, with 75 percent going to the state and 25 percent to the host city. The other, admissions tax, is split three ways: for every dollar going to the state, another dollar goes to the county and to the host city.

    According to the Casino Association of Indiana, the state received over $685 million in wager tax and $66.7 million in admissions tax last year. And that’s actually down from peaks of nearly $800 million in wagering tax and over $80 million admissions tax before the Great Recession. Even after you subtract the local taxes, that’s a pretty good chunk of the estimated $15.7 billion in tax revenue collected by the state in 2013.

    It would still be a pretty big chunk if a smaller piece went to the state, and local communities got to keep more. I mean, I’m sure Hammond isn’t complaining about the $36 million it rakes in from the casinos each year. Still, counties in Indiana have to pay for certain services with local taxes, do why can’t they raise more revenue for themselves?

     I realize gambling is a special case with heavy oversight and regulation. But it raises an interesting question: how much does Lake County Pay in taxes, and what does the state give us in return?