Produce suppliers across Ohio are betting casinos popping up throughout the state will increase their odds of making a profit.
In 2009, voters approved a measure legalizing casino gaming, making Ohio the 39th state to do so.
The legalization already has been a winner in a number of ways for the produce business, suppliers say.
For example, in Cleveland, “it has brought people downtown,” said Mark Mithalski, a buyer with Sirna & Sons Produce, a Ravenna, Ohio-based wholesaler.
Vince Sirna, vice president with the company, said a renaissance of downtown Cleveland is under way, spurred by the casino there.
“It’s a very exciting time for Cleveland,” he said.
There’s excitement in Columbus as well, where Scioto Downs, the state’s first “racino” — a blend of horse racing and casino betting — opened in May with 1,800 slot-like devices.
And there’s more coming.
“We have another casino opening in Columbus with a 400,000-square-foot floor space,” said Jim Sanfillipo, partner and sales manager with Sanfillipo Produce Co. in Columbus.
What does that mean for produce sales?
Plenty, Sanfillipo said.
“The volume is incredible in these giant facilities,” he said.
The increase in business is significant, Sanfillipo said.
“The first one increased our sales probably a 3% increase in sales,” he said.
Now, with the Hollywood Casino Columbus, which opened Oct. 8, there is potential for plenty more produce sales, Sanfillipo said.
“That’s tons of salad at a buffet that seats 350 people, and they have another eight or 10 restaurants,” he said.
Casinos are working as partners with the communities in which they operate, and that includes procuring product from local suppliers, said Jarrod Clabaugh, director of communications with the Columbus-based Ohio Restaurant Association.
“Our members in Cleveland tell us the casinos have worked very closely with them to make sure that the community outside the casino walls is being supported, as well,” he said.
Suppliers are excited about the business prospects the casinos represent, but some seem to be taking a wait-and-see approach.
“With the big casino, I’m not sure the restaurants on the fringe of the casino are going to do a lot of business,” said Ben Roth, a partner in Roth ProduceOne in Columbus.
Eateries closer to the slot machines and the track probably will draw more diners than others further away, Roth said.
“They’re going to have such a tremendous array of eating possibilities, that I doubt seriously that they’re going to stop on the way home,” he said.
He described the new casino complex as “a landing place for food,” with plenty of options for diners.
Cincinnati’s first casino was under construction in late September, although neighboring Indiana already has them, said Bill Schuler, president and chief executive officer of the Wilder, Ky.-based Castellini Group.
How the new casino will benefit local produce suppliers depends on how that success is measured, Schuler said.
“Individual companies that service the casinos will get a nice lift, but overall, it hasn’t grown consumption. It has just moved dollars around from other establishments,” he said.