Cavs owner says casinos would be slam dunk for local economy

SANDUSKY Think the Cleveland Cavaliers have done OK since Dan Gilbert took over as majority owner? D
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010

 

SANDUSKY

Think the Cleveland Cavaliers have done OK since Dan Gilbert took over as majority owner? Do you like Quicken Arena in downtown Cleveland?

Then maybe you'll consider the argument that Gilbert and his companies will take part in building some rather nice casinos in Ohio's four major cities, says Jeff Cohen, a business partner of Gilbert and a childhood friend.

Cohen is CEO of the Rock Companies, a family of companies with interests in the Cleveland Cavaliers, Quicken Loans and other Gilbert ventures. While Gilbert is the majority owner of the Cavaliers, Cohen also has an ownership stake.

"When we do something, we go all in," said Cohen, citing the success of the Cavaliers, which have fared better than other Cleveland franchises in recent years.

State Issue 3 will be on the ballot in the Nov. 3 general election and would authorize gambling casinos in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Toledo.

Cohen said the four planned casinos would create 34,000 new jobs in places where they are particularly needed -- the downtown urban cores of four Ohio cities. While the figure includes many construction jobs, it also includes 15,000 permanent jobs for people who will work at the casinos.

Contrary to what foes of the question have suggested, "90 percent of all the permanent jobs in the casino are going to be from the surrounding (metropolitan area)," Cohen said. "It's going to be predominantly union-based jobs."

The pledge that the casinos will hire locally explains why Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has endorsed the proposal, Cohen said.

The 33 percent tax on gross revenues, which Cohen says is one of the highest taxes on casinos in the country, will be redistributed to cities, counties and school systems across the state, Cohen said.

First year tax revenue will amount to about $651 million, he said.

According to Cohen, Erie County's commissioners would receive about $2.21 million a year, with another $1.6 million going to Erie County schools. Huron County would get about $1.7 million, with its schools receiving about $1.4 million. Ottawa County would get about $1.2 million, with about $700,000 for its schools.

Ohio voters have turned down casino gaming in previous elections. A coalition of liberal and conservative groups have come together to oppose the latest proposal, offering arguments in TV ads and online at truthpac.org.

The gambling question's foes include ProgressOhio, a liberal think tank in Cleveland, and Citizens for Community Values, a conservative group that opposes gambling on moral grounds.

TruthPAC says a loophole in the proposal means that cash wagers at casinos won't be taxed.

"It says if cash is not exchanged for chips or other objects, no tax is due," said Lou Blessing, co-chairman of TruthPAC.

Cohen contends the real issue is not whether people favor or oppose gambling, but whether it makes sense for Ohio gamblers to continue to send huge amounts of money out of state.

Ohio gamblers spend $1.7 billion a year in gambling casinos in neighboring states. If Issue 3 is approved, $1 billion of that will return to Ohio, he said.