There was a lot of giddiness Thursday when Penn National Gaming representatives offered details about their future ''racino'' in Austintown.
There is reason to be giddy. The Mahoning Valley gets another substantial economic development project, this one near the southeast corner of the I-80 / Rt. 46 interchange. This means construction jobs followed by about 1,000 permanent racetrack and casino jobs.
For Valley residents, a popular form of nightlife will become more accessible. No more driving to Chester, W.Va., Pittsburgh or Cleveland to watch and bet on thoroughbred horse races or play the slots (the track will offer video lottery terminals, or VLTS, 24 hours a day). We'll have a gambling mecca of our own - Hollywood Slots at Mahoning Valley Race Course.
And for state and local governments, a financial windfall is in store. Newly written Ohio law calls for more than $2 million to go to Austintown - $1 million payments in December and June - and $500,000 annually thereafter.
Gov. John Kasich said, ''The taxpayers will benefit from this.''
Austintown Trustee David Ditzler said, ''We're really excited about Penn National. We think they're just a fantastic corporation and it's a great opportunity for the Mahoning Valley. We're excited.''
While we don't want to be party-poopers, there is a growing body of evidence that most areas of the U.S. have hit the saturation point when it comes to gaming. Once the novelty of a racetrack with slots in Austintown wears off, the long-term prognosis might be disappointing for many.
Look at what's happening elsewhere:
The much-anticipated Revel mega-casino opened in Atlantic City last month, but Atlantic City still saw a heavy decline, 9.5 percent, in gambling revenue compared to May of 2011. ''Everybody should be worried regardless of the market,'' said Tropicana Chief Executive Tony Rodio. ''Even if you're in Pennsylvania, and even if you're just opening a new property, there is so much saturation now, everyone should be worried.''
The Foxwoods casino in Connecticut has stooped to offering gimmicks, such as cheap gasoline and a wellness center, even though rival casinos in neighboring Massachusetts haven't even yet opened.
In Illinois, like West Virginia years earlier, the types and locations for gambling are expanding wildly. ''When the 10th casino license opened (in Northern Illinois), the four northern casinos' revenues went down 12 percent. The closest casino is down 24 percent,'' said Tom Swoik of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association. ''This will have even more of a cannibalization effect. It's just going to take more money away from the existing casinos, and there's not going to be that much of a net gain to the state.''
Maryland voters approved five casinos in 2008 and the state soon will open a sixth this year. Even David Cordish, whose company is opening that sixth casino, warned that there is gaming over-saturation and that politicians who anticipate budgetary help from casino revenue are disillusioned. ''It's going to implode on them,'' Cordish said.
None of that should prompt the government from interfering. Illinois State Sen. Terry Link, D-Lincolnshire, put it well when he said, ''The state of Mississippi gives out (gambling) licenses to anyone that applies and qualifies for it, and if they succeed, they stay, and if they don't succeed, they close their doors. That's the way it should work: free enterprise.''
Casinos and racinos closing may soon become the norm. So everyone should recognize the haunting similarities between Ohio and states where folks are disappointed.
In Baltimore, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said gambling would help fund school construction.
In Massachusetts, Gov. Deval Patrick's declared ''jackpot.''
Does that giddiness sound familiar?
Atlantic City began building casinos in the 1970s and its poverty rate today is still 25 percent while the rest of New Jersey is 9 percent.
Long ago Illinois approved a lottery to help the state budget. Then it approved casino gambling to help the state budget. Now it faces a massive state budget deficit.
Illinois now has a video poker law allowing VLTs in truck stops, bars, fraternal organizations, veterans clubs - just about anywhere - to rescue the state budget.
Hollywood Slots at Mahoning Valley Race Course merits excitement, and our new neighbors should be welcomed to town. But it might be wise to temper the enthusiasm.