A handful of cold, wet protesters stood in the rain outside Nationwide Arena on Sunday afternoon, January 25, urging people to ask the City of Columbus to overturn the bailout of the Arena with their tax money.

The message from the Columbus Coalition for Responsive Government (“the Coalition”) to National Hockey League (NHL) All-Star fans attending the game was direct: Columbus’ kids and generations of the unborn will be burdened with nearly three billion dollars of debt because of the city’s taxpayer bailout of the Blue Jackets and Nationwide Arena.

The Coalition’s Jonathan Beard explained, “Columbus politicians and business leaders cut a deal to dump the money-losing Nationwide Arena on the taxpayers two years ago.” Beard charges that the deal was “done behind closed doors” and against the citizens’ wishes, who had five times rejected any tax money going into the Arena.

Because voters rejected using their local tax money to fund the Arena, City officials decided to use state casino tax revenue which had been earmarked by the City of Columbus and the County for general citizen needs.

Mayor Michael Coleman and City Council President Andrew Ginther had argued that the casino tax money given to the City would cover all the costs of operating the Arena, plus pay off the debt. Their original back room deal projected that the Arena would be paid off in 27.5 years.

Beard and other protestors today at the Arena point to projections by the Ohio Department of Taxation that show Columbus and Franklin County received only $4.4 million in casino tax revenue last quarter which goes to operate and maintain the Arena – but not enough to make payment on the ever-accumulating debt.

Various analysts and casino professionals believe the Ohio casino market is saturated, and that there will not be substantial increases in casino gambling and the associated tax revenues that are slated to pay the public debt on the arena. Beard explained, “No responsible analyst thinks the casino tax revenue curve will bend up sharply, which is what would be needed to assure solvency of this bum deal.” 

“If they fail to act, our children and grandchildren will be inheriting massive amounts of our entertainment debt – more than $2.8 billion over the next 85 years, and rising from there,” Beard said.

Ironically, Nationwide Mutual Insurance, the company that owned the debt-ridden Arena prior to the bailout, bought the Arena bonds and thus the City must pay off the bonds to the former owner. Eventually, Nationwide will demand their money and citizens will be burdened with another tax to pay off the Arena’s debt.

“We support the players and we enjoy the game – the Blue Jackets play a fast, hard-nosed and exciting brand of hockey,” said

Beard, “but we are determined that the sports industry model of abundantly wealthy team owners getting richer by picking the wallets of everyday citizens will not be supported in Columbus through backroom political deals, but if it happens it will be only through a vote of the people.”