In the past decade, Cleveland’s cut of the money that casinos make when gamblers lose has added up to about $117 million. Most of it is spent on general city services. City Council also gets a portion, and it is divided evenly between the 17 city wards. In 2022, each council member got about $116,000 to spend in the wards they are elected to represent. 

When council members want to spend this money, most of the time they have to pass a piece of legislation. The process of getting the money approved, however, can take months – if not years – which has frustrated neighborhood groups and nonprofits.

Council has passed about more than 140 pieces of legislation (and some that are repeats) since 2020. Most of the projects are never discussed in a public meeting. 

Cleveland Documenters interviewed more than 30 Cleveland residents across 13 wards to find out what they knew–and what they wanted to know–about casino revenue spending. 

Most–78%–had never heard of casino revenue funds. Many residents did not know that local governments got any money from the casinos. (It’s part of a deal that was hashed out when Ohio voters approved casino gambling in 2009.)

Documenters also learned:

  • None of the residents, who ranged in age from 21 to 88, knew how city officials were spending the money.
  • Not one resident could recall being asked by a city official or council member how they might prioritize spending the casino money in their wards. 

What did residents want to know about casino revenue spending?

I would like to know why such a small percentage is going back to the community when it makes so much.”

Charles Wagner, 42, Ward 8

How it’s being spent! I don’t need incredible detail, just to know it’s going in the right direction. It’s like lottery money–we don’t really know. We think it’s going to schools, but then we find out it’s not as much as we think.”

Greg Pohlman, 64, Ward 15

I did not know we had casino money. I would like to know how it is being spent. I would like to know who is spending it. Why this isn’t more public knowledge–and what other government revenue there is [to spend].”

Tatini Mal-Sarkar, 27, Ward 6

I’m not really that interested because I’m feeling that it wouldn’t do me any good. You know, if we don’t know yet, and no one has ever mentioned it, what good would it do?”

Denise Duckworth, 63, Ward 1

Cleveland Documenters who contributed to this special assignment include: Angie Pohlman, Brandy Smith, Marvetta Rutherford, Dan McLaughlin, Preeya Shankar, Robyne Williams, Alfreda Williams, Mildred Seward, Angela Thomas, Adrienne Hall, Giorgiana Lascu and Kellie Morris.

Cleveland Documenters pays and trains people to cover public meetings where government officials discuss important issues and decide how to spend taxpayer money.