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Caesars’ scorecard: pluses outweigh minuses

It hardly seems more than a year or two since Caesars Indiana opened its gambling complex at Bridgeport, just inside the Harrison County line on S.R. 111, often referred to as ‘River Road.’ But it’s been five years this month, and county officials now know, sort of, what’s to be expected.
We would be remiss if we did not take note of the many improvements in the quality of living in Harrison County that were made possible because of Caesars’ tax dollars: Increased ambulance service, a beefed up police force, dust-free county roads, and much, much more. Through revenue sharing, neighboring counties and some towns have received funds also, with no strings attached.
To be certain, some people have won money at Caesars, but far more have lost a good deal of money or Caesars wouldn’t be in business. But no one should take more money with them than they’re prepared to lose. Problem gamblers can get help through programs funded with part of Caesars’ tax dollars. (That’s more than other ‘sinful’ businesses have been made to do, such as covering the costs of withdrawal for substance abusers.)
Some underage visitors have tried to sneak on board the boat, and there’s no way to know how many have been successful. Those would-be gamblers are often stopped at the door by security, considering the number of criminal charges that have been filed.
Crime in Harrison County has not skyrocketed, as some had feared. Predevelopment studies showed hardly any increase in crime could be expected as a result of the boat, and that has proven so. Of course, there has been some drunk driving and wrecks, but that’s nothing new on S.R. 111.
Traffic on that road has increased, as expected. But improvements to the highway paid for by Caesars and changes in the gaming law that no longer requires boats to cruise or not cruise have lessened the chance visitors will speed up to arrive in time to board the boat.
There are lots of things to do at Caesars, even if you don’t want to gamble. There are excellent restaurants, gift shops, entertainment, a hotel with work-out equipment, a large swimming pool, hot tub, and so on.
So far, the boat has not resulted in an economic development boon for Harrison County, but that’s not Caesars’ fault. An enormous amount of riverboat revenue has been dedicated for the purpose of attracting development with good paying jobs. Fact is, there aren’t that many companies looking to relocate, except to Mexico. We hope that when the home front’s economy improves, the groundwork being laid now will pay off then. There does seem to be a lot going on with tourism development, but it’s a little early to gauge the long-range effects.
There have been some questions raised about the lack of development along S.R. 111, especially on vacant ground in adjoining Floyd County. Some had visions of mini-marts, restaurants, gasoline pumps, motels, antique stores and other development on that ground, but there has been none. Why? It’s a no-brainer: Much of that ground is in the flood plain, and few folks have the dollars to tie up as long as it would take to jump through the hoops before anything could be built there.
Along the route to Caesars, from Interstate 64 to S.R. 111, there has been some development closer in town. A restaurant and a motel have opened since the boat’s arrival, and, of course, a pawn shop. That will give New Albany a little extra tax money.
Speaking of tax money, let’s talk about that 18-percent revenue sharing Harrison County has paid for the last five years.
Crawford County, one of the state’s poorest, receives the lion’s share at eight percent. Why? At the time the agreement was made between the two counties, Crawford was competing with Harrison for the license that would be approved for this area. Crawford residents had approved gaming and the county could use the revenue. When Harrison agreed to give Crawford eight percent, Crawford joined Harrison County’s side. As a result, since the boat opened for business here, Crawford has received $6.69 million. Now the county also receives money from a boat in the Cincinnati area, which got the last license allowed to operate on the Ohio River.
We’ve heard no one even remotely suggest lowering Crawford’s revenue. We, too, think Crawford deserves its full share.
About some others, we’re not so sure. Georgetown? New Albany? Washington County? Floyd County?
New Albany, yes. New Albany residents voted for the boat, but the county voters outnumbered the town’s and so defeated the referendum. New Albany gets almost every vehicle on its way to Caesars. New Albany and Floyd County (once past the city limits) deal with the traffic. So far, we haven’t seen any long lines on the back roads to the boat, although there has been quite an increase in heavy truck traffic on the Elizabeth-New Middletown Road, through New Middletown. The boat has had a negative impact on some of New Albany’s resources, so the least we can do is pick up part of the tab.
Floyd County also gets revenue, but that county is responsible for patrolling S.R. 111 from New Albany to the boat, about eight miles. Floyd County also receives a share of profits from Caesars, to provide a community foundation which can be used for philanthropic purposes, the same as the Harrison County Community Foundation does here.
As for Georgetown and Washington County, we’re not sure that either has been impacted by the boat, negatively or positively. To continue either would probably be viewed as a goodwill gesture. Not a bad idea, but we need to remember that the state is taking all of our revenue above $24 million a year. If that money is to be divvied up among all the taxing units in the state, then we are already sharing our revenue.