I remember when I was young, carefree and dumb. (Now it’s just a couple of those; you decide which.)

It was late in my teen years, and my buddies and I would go on White Castle hamburger runs to Chicago. We’d pull an all-nighter to the Windy City to load up on the small, square hamburgers affectionately known as "Belly Bombs."

Eventually, they opened restaurants in Cincinnati and even in Dayton, so the drive was much shorter.

So when casino gambling arrived on the shores of the Ohio River in Indiana, which was much closer than Vegas and Atlantic City, yours truly became hooked on the one-armed bandits: Slots were my drug of choice.

Yes, it was addicting, but not to the point of losing my home or kids (sometimes, though, when my oldest daughter is trying my patience, I wonder, what if?).

I even proposed putting a casino in the downtown Dayton Arcade when I worked as a reporter. That obviously went nowhere. But Buckeye State voters finally decided casino gambling would be a good thing.

No more driving to the Hoosier state, unloading my hard-earned coin to the Indiana tax coffers. By the look of these palaces, you can sure tell the house wins the majority of time. Now part of my 40-hour paycheck stays right here when I drive to Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus or Toledo.

There’s a good chance gambling will be in our own backyard with a fully-integrated gaming and horse racing facility, a "racino," at Wagner Ford and Needmore roads on the site of the old Delphi Plant.  

Most everyone is on board, with the exception of the church bingo halls that are crying foul. Gambling, they say, is a sin but bingo is OK. Wait a minute, what? It’s fine for folks to plunk down part of their Social Security checks for bingo, but loading up a slot machine or betting on the ponies will bring down the area with fire and brimstone.  

The bottom line is that it will hurt their bottom line, but with this facility comes 1,000 construction jobs and 1,000 new and indirect jobs once it’s off and running.

Good Track Record

Penn National Gaming is behind the project. They have a pretty good track record. Owners of the Hollywood Casinos in Toledo and Columbus, they want to bring a little bit of Hollywood here.

“Our market studies indicate Dayton was an underserved market for gaming,” says Bob Tenenbaum, spokesman for Penn Gaming. “We’ve been overwhelmed by the support from the business community, city and county officials and the general public.”

You can count this columnist as part of that general public. But what about those detractors claiming added crime and the like?

One of my assignments as a TV reporter was to investigate how casino gambling was affecting the people in Lawrenceburg, Ind., home of then Argosy Casino, now named Hollywood.

That was back in the day when the casino was on a riverboat, and according to state law, had to leave its dock every so often because the state government required it. The gigantic floating casino had to turn around in the river. If it crossed the imaginary boundary in the middle, Kentucky could fine the owners because gambling is illegal there.

Again, I know we have to have rules, but for crying out loud, really?

Anyway, the mayor at the time showed me their data. Lawrenceburg had no increase in crime, no prostitution, no added problems for his city. The only concern he had is how and where to spend all that additional revenue.

They decided to use it on new infrastructure, street lighting, additional money for the police and fire departments, plus every local high school graduate received cash for college. Seems like everybody won big!

“I totally support the local racino,” says Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer. “I feel that the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.”

Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman says, “This is a tremendous opportunity for our community. It will be one more great attraction for the Dayton Region.”

By the way, Debbie likes the tables.

Others throw cautious support.

Former judge, county auditor and candidate for Dayton mayor A.J. Wagner adds, “I’m not a fan of commercial gambling, but the voters have spoken and have denied casinos here. For Dayton to remain competitive in this sometimes lucrative area of entertainment, I hope to see the racino developed.”  

The Hollywood at Dayton Raceway means a $125 million investment, multiple dining options, a sports bar, indoor and outdoor seating, plus a 5/8 mile harness racing track and all those jobs and tons of community support. So what’s the holdup?

One of the hurdles was put up by the state racing commission, which was at odds with developers over a few hundred seats. Seems they want more people watching harness racing and less people sitting at a slot.

Hey Columbus, get a life!

Approval Expected

On May 1, the commission approved the racing permit transfer from the Toledo track and a redesign with 1,037 seats and a view of live racing that would be built in two phases. It’s now up to the lottery commission to say yes to the gaming terminals, but that’s expected to be approved.

Here’s the deal: Penn Gaming could go elsewhere. And with jobs drying up here with our fine friends at NCR (now in Atlanta), GM gone and dozens of others closed, can we afford to lose this golden opportunity? By the way, I still won’t use an NCR ATM.

This seems like a triple 7 no-brainer to me, but there I go thinking again.

It seems like we should roll the dice. For the most part, this facility will be a really cool place to wind down after work, have an adult beverage and some great eats, plus drop a few bucks on the tables or terminals and the horses.

Still, some will argue that this is not going to be a win-win, and some will lose and abuse.

If you think that way though, then Dayton should not open new bars because of alcoholism, no carry-outs that sell cigarettes because of lung cancer, and no fast food joints offering products that lead to heart disease.

Is this the answer to our region’s woes? No, but it‘s a great start and down the stretch we’ll come.

I wonder if there’s a possibility of getting a White Castle inside the Hollywood at Dayton Raceway?

Saves me a trip to Chicago.