When it comes to Question 7 on the November ballot to allow the expansion of gambling, itís best to address the more contentious aspects first: Approval of the measure wonít guarantee more money for public schools; it will likely cannibalize business from existing slots parlors in Maryland; and while adding a casino in Prince Georgeís County will bring jobs, itís not the type of economic development the county should target.
In addition to allowing a sixth venue in Prince Georgeís (voters approved five video gaming parlors in 2008), the referendumís approval would permit table games at all the sites and allow them to stay open around-the-clock, all year. Prince Georgeís voters would have to vote in favor of the plan for a casino in the county.
One of the top arguments for expanded gambling is the estimated $200 million it would bring to schools each year. While a portion of revenue would be dedicated to an Education Trust Fund, legislators could conversely reduce the amount the state generally allocates for schools — overall there could be no change in education funding.
For Prince Georgeís, the stakes are higher. The county has long struggled to attract businesses, and one companyís proposal for an $800 million casino at National Harbor would go a long way toward boosting property tax collections. Studies estimate Prince Georgeís, where 70 percent of its revenue comes from property taxes, could reap about $40 million more.
While a casino and the thousands of jobs it could bring would be a shot in the arm for Prince Georgeís, itís not the economic development panacea for a county struggling to overcome government corruption, high crime and struggling schools. Adding gambling, and its related social ills, could prolong the countyís negative image and its problems.
Making matters worse, it appears existing slots parlors are already feeding off each other. A Perryville casino, just two years old, experienced a 32 percent decline in revenue last year, citing business lost since the Maryland Live! Casino in Anne Arundel County opened in June and is expecting to lose more once a Baltimore site opens next year. Granted, a proposed casino at National Harbor in Prince Georgeís County would likely attract additional patrons from nearby Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia, but it could just as easily hurt other Maryland sites.
Marylanders do spend hundreds of millions of dollars in out-of-state casinos but there is no evidence that adding another casino, more games and longer hours would be a major benefit.
A vote ďagainstĒ Question 7, rejecting expanded gaming, is the responsible choice.