- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The ever-popular topic of gambling in Maryland gained added impetus on two fronts last week. Media members were given a tour of the Maryland Live! Casino, which is scheduled to open for business at 10 p.m. today, June 6, at Arundel Mills Mall. And the 11-member panel that will study and report on the issues related to a potential spread of gambling held its first meeting Friday.
If the Work Group to Consider Gaming Expansion reaches consensus, it likely will offer legislation for a special session of the General Assembly to convene July 9.
Cynics might say that expanded gambling in Maryland is a done deal, what with the heavy hand of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) on the throttle.
That expansion entails two big issues: siting a gambling venue in Prince George’s County, specifically National Harbor, and adding table games to the slots facilities that are on board or to be established in the state.
A special session also could offer an opportunity for members of the Charles County delegation to make a pitch for slot machines to be placed at a Maryland bar that sits off the shore of Virginia over the Potomac River. A study found that 91 percent of the customers at the Colonial Beach casino would come from outside Maryland.
A National Harbor venue would be positioned to draw customers from Virginia and Washington, D.C. Adding out-of-state dollars to Maryland coffers is an enticing prospect.
By adding table games to the state’s gambling offerings, legislators, whether intentionally or not, would be making the potential revenue stream less reliant on lower-income people. Studies show that higher-income earners prefer table games, such as blackjack, roulette and craps, to slots. The same is true of men and younger gamblers. Women and senior citizens prefer slots to table games.
Still, there are obvious pitfalls to expanded gambling. Perhaps the biggest hurdle is opposition from the Cordish Cos., which developed the Maryland Live! Casino. Company officials argue that their business model was crafted with the same distant customers in mind that a National Harbor site potentially would draw.
Meanwhile, Caesars Entertainment, which is in line for a Baltimore slots license, reportedly would be OK with a National Harbor facility if it gets table games in exchange. There’s also talk of lowering Maryland’s gambling tax for licensees to make up for National Harbor competition. That proposal is likely to draw some strong opposition.
And then there’s the possible impact of a National Harbor casino on nearby residents.
A 2005 study by researchers at SUNY-Buffalo indicates that the chance of gambling addiction doubles for those living within 10 miles of a gaming emporium. In fact, researchers have found that problem gambling is more common than alcohol addiction, which is a continuing societal concern in its own right. Worse, problem gambling is more prevalent among those in lower socioeconomic groups, as well as among men.
When members of the work group and, ultimately, the full General Assembly grapple with expanded gambling, they will be deciding, in essence, how important it is to fill state coffers at the expense of other considerations.
Some of these lessons were learned in Southern Maryland in the mid-20th century, when slot machines crept into every corner of the region and gambling interests heavily influenced local politics. Ultimately, the region learned it could not build an economy based on gambling. The state outlawed slot machines in Southern Maryland in 1968.
In the intervening years this region has prospered as never before without legalized gambling.