Cincinnati casino’s first year attendance falls short

Today marks the Cincinnati casino’s first full year since opening its doors downtown at 1000 Broadway St. During the construction phase, casino owner Rock Ohio Caesars LLC, a joint venture of Rock Gaming LLC and Caesars Entertainment Corp., projected 6 million people a year would visit the facility’s table betting games, slot machines and restaurants.

“I think relative to our expectations, and when you take into consideration the weather impact of the last three months, I think we’ve had a nice ramp up,” Horseshoe Cincinnati General Manager Kevin Kline told this newspaper.

“I think all of us have seen that with the acceleration of new supply and competition in the market, that its contributed to a slower ramp-up in some cases for the new properties that have been introduced in Ohio,” Kline said.

Still anywhere from 5 to 6 million visitors the first year is considered a successful start, Kline said.

“Our numbers were always about getting the business ramped up and stabilized,” he said. “We feel very good about our year one, getting this business established in Cincinnati.”

Celebrating the casino’s one-year anniversary, officials released multiple figures Monday detailing the casino’s impact on the community. Building the casino was a $450 million investment. More than 1,700 full- and part-time food service, dealers, managers and other workers were hired for casino operations, generating taxable payroll of nearly $53 million a year. An additional 250-plus people were hired to work at the casino’s four restaurants.

Roughly 92 percent of employees were hired locally.

Casino visitors booked 45,000 night stays at partner hotels.

Adjusted gross revenues — total revenues less winnings paid to gamblers and money spent on promotions — exceeded $200 million from February 2013 through the end of January 2014, the most recent information available from Ohio Casino Control Commission.

The last 12 months, $36 million in gaming tax revenues were distributed to local governments in the Cincinnati metropolitan, including nearly $10 million each to Butler and Warren counties, according to Rock Ohio Caesars.

The casino has become a tourism attraction and part of Cincinnati’s revitalization story, Kline said. The casino’s partnerships with local hotels, restaurants and professional sports teams for customer loyalty rewards offer a unique experience its competitors can’t match, he said.

However, the Cincinnati casino, Ohio’s fourth and final voter-approved casino to open, has contended with unforeseen challenges.

It took four years to build the Cincinnati casino. During that time racinos, or horse racetracks with video lottery terminals, were approved to operate in Ohio.

Racino Miami Valley Gaming & Racing opened in Turtlecreek Twp., in Warren County, at the end of 2013. Belterra Park Gaming & Entertainment Center is set to open in May this year in Anderson Twp. Meanwhile, Penn National Gaming is building a Dayton-area racino.

Once all projects are complete, Ohioans will have 11 places to gamble with slot machines.

“The casinos were willing to make the financial commitment they made when they understood the terms not to include the racinos,” said Jeff Rexhausen, senior research associate for University of Cincinnati’s Economics Center, which published in 2009 an economic impact report about Ohio’s future casino industry.

Additionally, Ohio’s rough winter the last three months spared few industries, among them gambling, by forcing people and their spending to stay home.

A slow economic recovery could also be hurting the casino’s revenue potential, Rexhausen said.

“A lot of people still feel really pinched economically, and the more people feel pinched economically, the less business the casino’s likely to do,” Rexhausen said.

Looking ahead, Kline said his casino’s full service offerings, including restaurants, gambling, entertainment and partnerships with other Cincinnati attractions, will help it beat out the competitors.

“What we’ve said, and when you look at the Horseshoe compared to Miami Valley, even the properties that exist in southern Indiana, we have a very different product. A very different product. We invested $450 million to develop and establish what truly is the premier destination facility for the best in gaming entertainment in this region,” Kline said. “We delivered on that. The facility delivers on it.”

“We need more of the 2.3 million people that reside in the Cincinnati metropolitan area, we need more of those people to come down and see all the great things that are happening in Cincinnati,” he said.