OCEAN CITY – Local business owners, citizens, and interested parties gathered on Saturday morning for the Stop Slots Rally in Ocean City an effort to send the clear message that many people of Ocean City do not want slots infiltrating the resort town.
The rally, held at the end of the Boardwalk at the Inlet, was organized in conjunction with several other Stop Slots Rallies across the State of Maryland on Saturday. Rallies were held in Frederick, Little Orleans and Upper Marlboro in Prince George’s County. Another slots rally will also be held in Baltimore City on Friday. With the special session to discuss and ultimately approve a reform package that aims at addressing an estimated structural deficit of $1.7 billion scheduled to begin on Oct. 29, it has become imperative for slots opponents to come together as a cohesive unit in the fight against slots.
According to Melanie Pursel, executive director of the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, over 75 people gathered at the Inlet on Saturday to garner more information about the adverse affects of slots and to voice their own opinions on the pitfalls of slots.
According to the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling (NCALG), which is working in conjunction with Stop Slots Maryland, gambling runs the severe risk of causing addiction, increasing bankruptcy, crime, suicides and divorce, causing damages to the economy, cannibalizing jobs, corrupting politics, and stimulating illegal gambling. These social issues were emphasized on Saturday, as several speakers spoke to the reality of the imposing threats.
According to the NCALG, the addiction rates double within 50 miles of a casino and typically seizes the lives of 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent of the adult population.
Reverend Tom McKelvey of the Community Church of Ocean Pines spoke to the dangers of addiction that slots could bring to our area. McKelvey referenced his time spent hosting a gamblers anonymous group through the church saying, “for the first time I saw what gambling can do in the lives of individuals and families.”
McKelvey noted the fallout of addiction and the threat of increased crime and poverty as well.
“In terms of slots themselves and pulling down that one arm bandit, it is so highly addictive, it is that promise of easy money and the promise of easy money is a false promise,” he said, emphasizing the United Methodist Churches firm opposition to slots in Maryland.
Dr. Leonard Berger, owner and founder of the Clarion Resort Hotel, also spoke to the dangers of addiction and the promise of easy money.
“We here in Ocean City are a family town. We do not want to send the wrong message. There is no easy way to riches,” he said.
Berger maintained that slots would not benefit Ocean City, but would rather have an adverse affect on the community.
“You hear about people that want slot machines, you hear politicians say, ‘this is going to solve all our problems,’ but the funny thing is none of them want it in their own neighborhoods,” Berger said, also pointing out the false promises of easy money from politicians.
Bill Ochse, founder of The Kite Loft, spoke of false gambling promises that have reverberated throughout Maryland in the past. Ochse asked the crowd to think back to 1963, when politicians promised that lottery tickets would be sold on Fridays only and that all of the revenues would go to education. Ochse paralleled the false promises heard then to the false promises of easy money and “balancing the deficit” that is being heard now.
“I don’t want people leaving Ocean City with the slogan, ‘what happens in OC stays in OC’,” Ochse said, drawing a comparison between Ocean City and the gambling mecca of Las Vegas.
Keynote speaker Tom Grey, of the NCALG, also referenced Las Vegas, pointing out that it is the model or flagship that is often used to prove the profitability of slots and gambling. Grey pointed out that despite the appeal of Nevada as a tourist destination, it is the number one most dangerous state, number one in suicides, divorce, prostitution, and women killed by men. Nevada is also third in high school dropouts and last in volunteerism. Grey also noted that Nevada saw its largest tax increase in the state’s history three years ago.
Grey called attention to false promises as well, noting the proposed revenues from slots increase each year, a jump that is not a reflection of inflation. According to Grey, the revenue promises have gone from $450 million to $500 million to $600 million over the past few years.
“Whatever it takes to get it through is what the number will become,” he said.
Grey also explained that over $2 billion would have to come out of the people’s pockets and into slot machines in order for that revenue to be reached.
Increase in crime and a decrease in local economy was also highlighted at the rally.
The Harrison Group’s Ruth Waters, originally from Wildwood, N.J., pointed out the rapid increase in businesses that closed in Atlantic City when gambling came to town. She also noted the subsequent change in tourists and demographics. According to the NCALG, the per capita crime in Atlantic City jumped from 50th in the nation to first.
Aaron Meisner of Stop Slots Maryland noted that the turnout was as expected with nearly 1,000 people coming out to the Upper Marlboro rally and a few dozen turning up for the other rallies.
“What I observe about slots events is that they really turn out people as you have imminent danger,” Meisner said, explaining that until a bill is released from Governor Martin O’Malley, outlining where slots may land, people don’t know what kind of danger their communities are in. Meisner pointed out that once the bill is released a massive mobilization of people is expected to follow.
Overall, Meisner was pleased with the rallies, saying, “The idea behind the slots rallies is to demonstrate that there is opposition that spans the state from the Boardwalks of Ocean City out to the fields of Cumberland.”
Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melanie Pursel was also pleased with the Ocean City rally, saying, “I thought that the rally was a success. To bring together the business and faith based community as a united front is immeasurable.”