The groundwork is slowly but surely being put in place for slot machines coming to Maryland next year.
After a couple of quiet years on the one-arm bandit front, 2008 is shaping up to be the critical crossroads for the issue. When the legislature convenes next year, slots are expected to be a major topic of discussion. However, we may not have to wait that long. It has been reported recently that a fall special session could be convened to discuss slots and other revenue generators.
Whenever the legislature is summons to Annapolis, it’s expected slots revenue and an increase in either income or sales tax will largely be used to tackle the state’s $1.5 billion structural deficit. Some insiders have gone so far as to intimate a 1-percent increase in the sales tax will be considered as well as limited slots at the tracks. That’s a controversial package, one that would certainly impact the resort area and its consumers.
At a recent meeting in Ocean City, Gov. Martin O’Malley touched on slots as a potential revenue generator he favors in certain locations. “I’m in favor of limited slots at the racetracks if only to preserve that open space and save those racing jobs,” the governor said after touring Trimper’s Rides in Ocean City. “I know you would rather see the dollars going into Shenanigan’s for lunch or the Kite Loft instead of going into one-armed bandits. I’m very mindful of that.”
Our position on slots has not changed over the last 10 years. They should be approved at select racetracks on the western shore to halt the exodus of hundreds of millions in possible revenue to neighboring states and to breathe a little life into a dying horse industry. We are against any on the shore because they will attract tourism business away from Ocean City. It has been said in the past if they are approved for the Hyatt or an offtrack betting facility in Cambridge they should be present at Ocean Downs. The thought was rather than people leaving the Ocean City area and heading east for a day trips, it would be better to keep them and their disposable incomes in Worcester County. We do not agree with that logic.
The Ocean City Tourism Commission, comprised of leading business owners, trade association representatives and elected officials, weighed in this week. It voted unanimously to oppose slots in Maryland and wants to put forward a unified front in Annapolis. Local tourism officials clearly believe slots will eventually expand to the Ocean City area if they are approved in Maryland. There’s sound precedent to support that claim and reason to be concerned about proliferation. That’s why they want the ear of lawmakers now.
After a year of being on the back burner, judgment day is near for slots, and local officials are wise to gather the troops and play a part in the early discussion. It’s evident slots will truly be considered this year as a revenue generator, and it’s been a couple years since that’s been the case as a stalemate between former Gov. Bob Ehrlich and House Speaker Michael Busch ruled the day between 2002 and 2006. Before that Republican administration, slots were not on the table during the tenure of Gov. Parris Glendening, who promised to veto any slots package.
With the O’Malley administration on board and willing to work with Senate Speaker Mike Miller to get a limited revenue deal done, slots has a viable chance to be approved, despite continued opposition from Busch on the House side and the Republican minority. The Tourism Commission is right to reaffirm its position early and begin to rally the troops because all indications are the time has never been better for slots.