For some Ohio produce suppliers, doing business with casinos is like betting on a sure thing.
In 2009, voters approved a measure legalizing casino gaming, making Ohio the 39th state to do so.
It has been a winner in a number of ways for the produce business, suppliers say.
“Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland have revitalized themselves, and one of the trends in all those markets is they put casinos in those downtown areas, and that has led to more restaurants in those areas that adds a spark to the restaurants already there, to getting people downtown,” said Erv Pavlofsky, principal of business development with ProduceOne in Dayton, Ohio.
The Horseshoe Casino has helped to create a renaissance in downtown Cleveland, said Tom Sirna, chief executive officer of Sirna & Sons Produce, based in nearby Ravenna, Ohio.
“The casino definitely draws people into downtown Cleveland, and I think that’s what actually started the trend in getting people downtown,” Sirna said.
Before Ohio legalized casino gambling, bettors would take their business to neighboring states, Sirna said. Now that business stays in the local area.
“We’re not getting people from out of state, but it is keeping our people here and bringing them downtown,” he said.
Betting action has picked up in Columbus, Ohio, over the past couple of years, too, and that has given a boost to the local produce business, said Anthony Arena, president of Columbus-based wholesaler Arena Produce Co. Inc.
“We have the biggest one in town,” he said, referring to the Hollywood Casino Columbus, which opened at the end of 2012 and has five restaurants.
All five of the Hollywood’s dining venues have large buffets teeming with fresh produce, Arena said.
“If you’re going to make an evening out of it, you’re going to eat, and these buffets are known for good-quality produce,” he said.
The Hollywood is on the city’s west side, however, so it doesn’t draw the volume of customers it might downtown, said James Sanfillipo III, partner in Sanfillipo Produce Co. in Columbus.
“The big casino could have been a huge advantage for us, but they put it on the western edge of town, thinking that it would pick up the area there,” Sanfillipo said.
The idea was to redevelop the western rim of Columbus, but it could take decades to realize that goal, Sanfillipo said.
“They had a good spot for restaurants downtown, but they found a way to muck it up,” he said.
“They dropped a $100 million building in the middle nowhere, where at one time they had plans to put it downtown.”
Planners missed an opportunity, Sanfillipo said.
“It would have been really hopping but they did not do that,” he said.
There are other gambling opportunities — and the potential produce sales that go with it — in Columbus. Scioto Downs, the state’s first “racino” — a blend of racing and casino betting – also opened in 2012. The venue features 1,800 slot-like devices, as well as horse racing.
Not all suppliers do business directly with gambling spots, but they say their businesses can benefit indirectly.
Pavlofsky, for example, said his company doesn’t do any business with the casinos, but ProduceOne does sell to restaurants that have taken root near the gambling venues.