Report: Casino Revenue Could Be Used to Keep Blue Jackets in Columbus

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In the wake of their financial struggles due to a lease agreement with Nationwide Arena, the NHL's Blue Jackets are nearing an arrangement to use funds generated by a local casino to keep the team in Columbus, according to a report in The Columbus Dispatch.

The Dispatch cites sources close to the situation that say some of the revenues from the Hollywood Casino Columbus could be used by the Jackets to help ease the team's monetary hardships.

Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman told the paper he is "considering casino revenues" but refused to elaborate on the plan in detail.

"Having said that, there is no fix yet," Coleman said. "That's as far as I can go right now, but it's high on my agenda to deal with it. There should be an urgency to this issue."

The Blue Jackets were founded in 2000 and have played their home games at Nationwide Arena, a privately-funded venue. Because Nationwide was privately-funded, the Blue Jackets do not earn revenue via naming rights, luxury boxes and parking rates at a comparable rate to other hockey teams.

Without a high revenue return from their arena, the Blue Jackets have suffered in the pocketbook. According to sources cited by the Dispatch, the team lost $25 million last season and nearly $53 million since 2008. Of these losses, between $10 and $12 million is as a result of the lease agreement with the arena.

"Certainly, this process has been frustrating, though I don't blame (public officials) for it," Blue Jackets majority owner John P. McConnell said. "I think right now we feel very good that they understand things are getting to a more urgent place to get this resolved."

Without a resolution to the team's financial woes, the Jackets could end up with a similar fate as the Thrashers, who moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets this summer after failing to maintain monetary stability in Atlanta. There are similar issues facing the Coyotes in Glendale, Ariz., and the Islanders were unsuccessful in getting voters to approve a new arena in Nassau County to replace the Nassau Coliseum.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has been unwilling to hit the panic button just yet on the Blue Jackets.

"If you?re looking at the other situations ? Atlanta became unsustainable," he said; Glendale is subsidizing the building to the tune of $25 million after having built the building. "What's being asked here isn't even close to that."

Coleman has repeatedly said no income tax or money from the city of Columbus' general fund will be used to aid the team, leaving the Jackets to explore other options such as the casino.

Hollywood Casino is anticipated to generate $24 million for Columbus and $16 million per year for Franklin County. This money could be used to help the hockey club, and a public vote is not mandatory to approve this. A source said less than half of the revenue from taxes on the casino could be used by the Jackets to offset the losses as a result of the Nationwise lease.

Some in Columbus are not as willing to concede to the casino transaction.

"The city already has plans for the casino money," said Matt Ferris, a Republican City Council candidate. "It's already spent. We don't have enough money to fund the programs the mayor has given the city as it is."

As the situation progresses McConnell stressed the team's lease situation is a seperate issue than the team's day-to-day hockey operations.

"The only support we're asking for is fixing the lease," he said. "We're not asking for money to run the team. We'll live and die on whether we can win hockey games and whether we can bring people into the building."

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