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After One Year, Hollywood Casino Bringing Investment On West Side

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of the Hollywood Casino Columbus on the West Side. Supporters call the location a crucial part of redevelopment while critics say the promises made have not been kept.

Since last October, Hollywood Casino has counted 3.7 million guests. But revenues from gambling have missed projections. Through June, the Columbus Casino pulled in $165 million from gamblers. Jim Jackson from Urbana comes to play slot games.

“For five dollars we can come over here for 2 or 3 hours and just enjoy ourselves and it does not cost us much just the gas to come over... Well my wife won a little bit $20, $30," says Jackson.

Penn National Gaming invested about $400 million to build the 125,000 square foot casino. But, the return on investment so far is moderate.

General Manager of the Hollywood Casino Columbus, Ameet Patel says there have been pluses and minuses since opening. Patel says table games business has been better than expected, so poker tables increased while slot machines dropped by about 500.

“From a revenue standpoint we again are positioned very well. We are right in the middle of the pack. If you look at our table games business we are right up there with what we are supposed to do," says Patel.

Executive Director of the Ohio Casino Control Commission, Matthew Schuler says more Ohioans are staying in the state to gamble and nearby states are seeing a 20 percent drop in their gambling revenues.

“Looking at the one year anniversary of the Hollywood Casino here in Columbus, the promises that were made, are they promises kept, trying to weigh out is this a good thing or a bad thing for the state of Ohio. I think we’re still in that process as a state," says Schuler.

Shuler says the control commission and casino operators have also been aggressive in assuring fairness for gamblers. So far, 90 people have been indicted for cheating at all 4 Ohio casinos. Three casino dealers have also been indicted. They worked at the Cleveland and Toledo casinos. An employee at Hollywood Casino Columbus faces theft charges.

Rob Walgate is a critic of the casino. He’s with the Ohio Round Table an organization that opposed the approval of gaming in Ohio. Walgate says he is not impressed by the casino development.

“Ohioans have been left holding relatively an empty bag of promises from what they were told in 2009 during the campaign," says Walgate. Included among promises made by Penn National: Community involvement and sharing of revenue with Franklin County and Columbus. General Manager Ameet Patel.

We are very much on target with the bigger picture of community involvement. We’ve very much on target with community economic development on the west side," says Patel.

Patel says the Casino has helped financially to redevelop the West Side. A new sidewalk is under construction and landscaping is planned for the area near West Broad Street at I-270.

It’s all part of the vision of nearly two dozen businesses lining West Broad Street like Haydocy Automotive. Chris Haydocy is one of the leaders working to improve the area. His automobile and RV businesses are next to the Hollywood casino and close to still vacant storefronts.

“Three years ago these vacancies looked as though they were going to be vacant for decades. Now these vacancies are opportunities and it’s just a matter of time before there’s more and more investment out here," says Haydocy.

Just south of the Hollywood Casino on Georgesville Road a bowling alley undergoes a $2.5 million renovation and when completed will become an entertainment center with video games, billiards and laser tag.

The West Side of Columbus was once called the loneliest neighborhood in the country. Westland Mall remains closed. There’s also a large rundown apartment complex that is still a hazard with vacant units. Prairie Township Trustee, Tracy Hatmaker says any trickle down improvements from the Casino have not yet reached his area.

“We’re not seeing anything negative, but we’re just not seeing any positive impact. It’s really not an economic factor to my knowledge," says Hatmaker.

Hatmaker adds however, the Southwestern School district will benefit from casino tax revenues. Figures show more than $930,000 went to Southwestern this year. Columbus City Schools has collected $2.2 million.

Casino General Manager Patel wants to expand the casinos’ event center so more special events can be held bringing more visitors and more revenue to share.