Downtown casino opening may be delayed due to tax concerns

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19)  - The opening of a new casino in downtown Cincinnati may be delayed, and remain a pile of dirt longer than expected.

The president of developer Rock Gaming has reportedly said a key part of the project is currently on hold until they hear from Governor Kasich. The company is waiting for the Governor to finalize key financial aspects of the project including applying a Commercial Activity Tax and fees on the Horseshoe Casino.

Governor Kasich reportedly has said that tax could increase the state's revenue by eight to ten times. However, casino developers said that could force them to scale back their project.

Rob Nichols, a spokesperson with the Governor's office, told FOX19 that Governor Kasich isn't against gambling. Nichols said Governor Kasich wants to make sure the state does what is best for taxpayers. Unfortunately, some business owners are counting on the economic jolt the casino could bring, and say they don't have time to wait.

Business is sizzling at Joe's Diner on Sycamore Street. The restaurant sits just blocks away from Broadway Commons, where the casino will be built. Restaurant owner Jay Rodg was counting on that location to help his business grow.

"I'm upset," Rodg said. "We were looking to go to three shifts when {the casino} goes three shifts with construction. We were going to go 24-hours. You know-- we wanted to try to feed the construction workers from day one. Now we're kind of in limbo to see what's going to happen, as well."

Rodg said he understands Governor Kasich is trying to broker the best deal for taxpayers, but he wonders if it's the best deal for local entrepreneurs.

"I just think it's sad that our Governor of Ohio doesn't see how important this casino is," Rodg said. "I mean, we voted on it for a reason. We felt like it was going to give our state an economic jolt, and I don't understand the hold up."

Casino developers were planning on a 2012 opening date, but Rock Gaming President Matt Cullen said he's waiting to order tens of millions of dollars worth of steel until he gets the green light from Columbus. That steel would be used to build the framework for the casino, and pushing back that step could push back the opening into 2013.

State Senator Eric Kearney said that's just too much time. Kearney also said the Governor is sending the wrong message to Cincinnati.

"My number one concern is that we're delaying revenue to our small businesses and that we're stifling jobs," said Kearney. 'If the project costs more than it normally should be and planned to be then maybe the design won't be as nice or elaborate as it is right now or they might have to scale back their plans."

Meanwhile, a company leader from the casino operating partner Caesars Entertainment says the project will be built.

"I think when you build a large facility of a $400 million Investment there's always things that you have to come to an agreement on," said Payne. "We're looking for clarity and we're moving forward, and we're going to get this wonderful casino up in the next couple of years."

But small business owners such as Rodg said that may be too long for him to wait.

A spokesperson for Rock Gaming said the work won't completely stop in the near future. We're told that crews will still work on the foundation this summer.

Nichols said the Governor is looking to hire a gambling consultant in the next few weeks to help him finalize his decision. Nichols said the administration is very close to announcing that consultant.

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