“Do you favor the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education to authorize video lottery operation licensees to operate ‘table games’ as defined by law; to increase from 15,000 to 16,500 the maximum number of video lottery terminals that may be operated in the State; and to increase from 5 to 6 the maximum number of video lottery operation licenses that may be awarded in the State and allow a video lottery facility to operate in Prince George’s County?”
Translation from PoliSpeak: Approve the building of a sixth casino while checking the box to expand table games in existing casinos.
Measure 7 is a disgraceful piece of political theater, complete with a garbled script even by lobbying standards, Hoover Dam torrents of money—$56 million plus— pouring into grateful media outlets, and facile message/counter-message strategies assaulting the airwaves like sonic armies deployed by the Bizarro World’s casino industry marketers.
What started as a simple and acceptable expansion of table gaming (roulette and cards, etc), Measure 7 morphed into a behemoth transporter of disingenuous promises—the notion that yet another casino in Prince George’s County would shower Maryland education with money, create scores of ongoing new jobs and add fuel to the sputtering economic engines of the State.
MGM Resorts—who has its sights set on building a super-casino in Potomac City near Washington D.C. has plunked down $20+ million promoting the Measure 7 plan championed by Governor O’Malley and Speaker of the House Mike Miller. Another $30 million From Penn National Gaming warns Marylanders that Measure 7 is not a sound economic plan but you only have to find out that they are protecting their own interests in Hollywood Casino in Charles Town, West Virginia while pretending to care for the economic health of Maryland. They pulled the same advertising anti-casino blitz in Ohio to protect their casino interests in Indiana.
Talk about stacking the deck!
With close to $290 million projected revenue from the percentage of gambling profits required by Maryland law to go toward education, the simple addition of another casino is easily made to look like a winner. The truth is not so simple—this would be money used to displace funds used in the education fund, not to add to it. The additional revenue would go elsewhere in the Maryland budget. It would be possible to legislate additional money to the education fund from casino dollars, but we’d like, as they say, to see it in writing.
Maryland spending on education from state to county is determined by the Thornton Law (2002). Gambling revenue is not an addition to those funds—although it could be—rather, the revenue goes elsewhere through the General Fund to be used for other purposes not necessarily in the State’s best interest.
Five casinos were approved by referendum four years ago. Three are open. All well and good: the people spoke. But then the real games began: tax concessions to other Maryland casinos to offset lost revenue with the proposal of building of sixth casino, special summer sessions in the legislature, ad wars, and the truth get buried in deep-pocketed spin cycles.
It is unfortunate that the O’Malley administration attached the sixth casino to a referendum that would have probably sailed through the election—the expansion of table gaming. To his credit, the Governor O’Malley has invested in schools, but using “schools and job” as a “do the right thing” imperative is less than forthright.
We don’t have a problem with expanding into table games for existing Maryland casinos. We just don’t like to be railroaded into a completely different deal run remotely by out-of-state casino interests and in-state former aides to Gov. O’Malley and Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith, both hired by casino interest.
And finally, Measure 7 is a ‘fail’ as far as helping the state’s budget issues. Casinos will enjoy millions of dollars of special tax breaks that Maryland small businesses can not acquire, re-subsidize the horse-racing industry ($378 million), and could make Marylander taxpayers responsible for $300 million in transportation-related fees to the casinos.
Separate the two issues and let the people choose.
Vote NO on 7 and thank the gambling promoters for dropping $50 million into Maryland media. Show them how hard it is to draw to an inside straight.