Bad Policy To Change Slots Specifics Now

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The County Commissioners’ recent letter to the local state delegation seeking specific changes to the slots legislation has agitated officials in Ocean Pines, Berlin and Ocean City.

A little background: On Dec. 22, 2008, the County Commissioners wrote Gov. Martin O’Malley, Senator Lowell Stoltzfus and Delegates Jim Mathias and Norman Conway asking for “some changes to the law to make it more beneficial to the needs of our citizens.” The points addressed touched on hiring preferences, who should appoint members to the local development council, a wording change to enforce the working premise the state will improve Route 589 should slots come to Ocean Downs and changing the way funds are distributed to the county if Ocean Downs is awarded a video lottery operation license.

Of the five points addressed in the county’s letter, the disbursement of the local impact grant funds seems to be the most controversial. This is no surprise, given it could potentially involve hundreds of thousands of dollars at some point. The County Commissioners want all the funds distributed to the county and then allocated to the individual jurisdictions, including Ocean Pines, based on need and proven impacts. The legislation, passed by the Maryland General Assembly last year, calls for the distribution to be 70 percent, county; 20 percent, Ocean City; and 10 percent, Berlin.

Although it was predictable that folks would want to make alterations to the approved legislation after voters endorsed slots last year, we do not think any changes to this legislation should be made. There’s already talk in Annapolis about reducing the fees developers have to pay to get a slots license, though there was great debate on that very topic a year ago. This is wrong. Legislation was passed last year. The state’s voters passed a referendum last year, and knowledgeable citizens made their decision based on what the proposed Constitutional Amendment called for specifically. It’s not right to go back and change critical parts of the legislation after the fact.

Ocean City is right to be upset as should Berlin, which simply wants to be kept abreast of any potential changes should legislators consider them, and Ocean Pines, which clearly wants a slice of the funding, 15 percent has been suggested, despite the fact it’s not a municipality. However, while Ocean City blasted the county for its letter, its own correspondence seeking the same proposed distribution formula will also ask legislators to make a change as well, specifically making sure Ocean City is covered in the funding equation if a slots license is granted to an entity other than the racetrack.

Unfortunately, it appears the legislature is open to making changes to the existing rules and regulations regarding slots, and we have to be careful to keep a close eye on what changes are made.

It’s our hope any changes that are made do not adjust the distribution formula because we see it as fair as written. Berlin Mayor Gee Williams was right when he wrote making the towns go through the “annual budgetary bidding process with the commissioners” for impact funds makes an already political situation even more so. It adds an unnecessary “layer of bureaucracy to the process” will “create unnecessary delay and inefficiency in reacting to unexpected adverse impacts from slots, or in our ability to respond to new opportunities or changing economic circumstances as the full impact of the slots legislation takes effect,” he wrote.

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