The outside doorway of a Hollywood casino

We’ve heard this story too many times before, but it’s worth repeating in Columbus because the local version of this reality is so surreal and wrong it’s almost as if this community has refused to process it.

The West Side’s golden age was replaced with a casino that hasn’t revitalized the West Side as hoped, and is essentially sucking money out of Central Ohio at an increasing rate.

A few miles past the Hilltop in the years following WWII, two huge manufacturing plants emerged. General Motors built an auto-parts plant at the corner of West Broad and Georgesville, and in walking distance from this plant, White Westinghouse built a plant manufacturing dishwashers.

“The West Side was hopping,” says lifelong Hilltop resident Jim Ogden. “Both those plants were running three shifts a day.”

During those halcyon days, which lasted from the 1950s to the 1980s, GM and its subsidiary Delphi employed 3,000 to 5,000 manufacturing auto parts. The Westinghouse plant made dishwashers and at its peak employed 3,000. Huge swaths of single-family home neighborhoods began to emerge. Retail and entertainment for these neighborhoods soon followed. Put simply, these good-paying jobs with benefits and retirement plans built the West Side past the Hilltop.

Now the West Side struggles with high unemployment and vacancy rates, drug addiction and hopelessness. The downward spiral started in the late 1980s, when Delphi and Westinghouse slowly abandoned their plants for Mexico where they pay their employees $2 to $5 an hour.

In fact, Delphi shifted so much production south of the border, Delphi in 1999 became Mexico’s largest private employer. By the way, Delphi started out in Ohio in the late 1890s.

Several West Siders who once worked at these plants and interviewed for this story told the Free Press is was a combination of “economic factors” that convinced Delphi and Westinghouse to close shop. Global competition and unfair trade deals, for example.

But even President Donald Trump has ballyhooed what many now believe was the main reason Delphi and Westinghouse decided to outsource their manufacturing. For the dirt-cheap labor in Mexico and China.

“When times get tough the only class that’s protected is the bossing class,” wrote former Delphi shop worker Gregg Shotwell in his book Autoworkers Under the Gun: A Shop-Floor View of the End of the American Dream. “Workers bear the brunt of every slump in the economy while the chumps in ties shift their capital to more lucrative enterprises.”

The new American dream pushed by politicians and financial guys that shovel cash to their political cronies believes that manufacturing jobs will give way to service sector positions.

Indeed, Ohio lost over 300,000 manufacturing jobs from 1995 to 2004, according to the Bureau of Labor. And look no further than the former Delphi plant at Broad and Goergesville where those manufacturing jobs were replaced with…poker dealers, cocktail waitresses and those who fix slot machines?

It sounds like an episode of the Twilight Zone, but the reality is problem gambling rates have doubled since Hollywood Casino and others were legalized in the state nearly five years ago, this according to the Ohio Casino Control Commission.

The state’s gambling addiction rate could be much worse though. The Free Press has covered the issue over the previous year and several local addiction experts said gambling anonymous meetings are increasing and frequently crowded. And because much of the local media is beholden to the advertising dollar of both Hollywood and Scioto Downs, the issue is mostly kept under wraps.

How much money is lost annually to both Hollywood and Scioto Downs would never be revealed by their executives, but on most Friday or Saturday nights both casinos are jammed packed where a handful may win, but the majority lose.

“There isn’t a way to figure that out, but definitely it would be in the millions,” says Derek Longmeier, Executive Director for Problem Gambling Network for Ohio. “Certainly these casinos weren’t built on winnings.”

True, local casinos pay millions in taxes, Hollywood paid over $80 million in 2015. The abandoned Delphi plant was also an environmental mess and cleaned up by Hollywood.

But to fully accept the truth is to recognize the absurdity. Thousands of good-paying jobs were replaced by dirt-cheap labor in Mexico thus decimating the West Side’s middle class. And instead of new jobs, the former manufacturing plant was replaced with a casino that’s helping to take money away from what’s left of Central Ohio’s middle class.

“When you look at the negative impact gambling has, the cost always outweighs the economic benefit,” Longmeier.

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