Bill Easing Casino Restrictions Worries OC

OCEAN CITY – The resort’s future is being threatened as a result of a bill proposing to drop restrictions from casinos throughout the state, including at Ocean Downs in Berlin, according to Ocean City officials.

At the conclusion of Monday evening’s legislative session, Mayor Rick Meehan brought up Senate Bill (SB) 892, Gaming-Video Lottery Terminals and Table Games, that had been approved by the State Senate a couple of weeks ago and was heading to the House this week as House Bill (HB) 1265.

SB 892 allows for an expansion of gambling at approved slots locations in the state to include table games such as poker, blackjack, craps and roulette.

It will also allow for a sixth casino in Maryland, to be located in Prince George’s County, and alter some of the provisions in the legislation approved by state voters in a 2008 referendum, including changes in the revenue distribution structure and amenities offered at Ocean Downs, for example.

The bill was approved last week by the Senate in a 35-11 vote, which would put the issue back in front of the state’s voters through a referendum process.

At the time Senator Jim Mathias (D-38) recused himself from the vote after an inquiry last week called into question a potential conflict of interest because of his employment with the local company, Royal Plus, which did extensive work at the Berlin facility.

Delegate Mike McDermott (R-38B), who represents Worcester and the Lower Shore, said he was not surprised the bill passed the Senate and was prepared to support it when it came before the House.

“Once that horse left the barn, it became evident this would be the next step,” he said last week. “I really don’t have any concerns about it. I’m sure at this point there won’t be a lot of opposition to it. It’s going to happen.”

This week, Meehan and City Council members said they were not surprised to see the bill pass either.

“We knew this was coming and I can tell you that we knew it was coming the day that they passed the bill four years ago,” Meehan said.

Meehan outlined the approved changes that are causing great concern for Ocean City. First, it will eliminate the current provision that prohibits a video lottery operator from offering free food and alcoholic beverages.

Next, it removes certain restrictions that were originally put in place specifically for Ocean Downs, such as prohibiting construction or operation of a conference or convention center, amusement park or other specified entertainment facility within 10 miles of the casino. It also prohibited offering patrons live music or other forms of entertainment apart from a single piano player or fireworks displays.

“These changes have raised some concerns and I think rightfully so … they have to be approved by referendum and trust me there isn’t anybody that is voting across the state that is going to make their decisions based on what changes will be made at the racetrack in Worcester County,” Meehan said. “That is just not going to be part of their thought process, but it is very important to us …. I don’t know if we have the power to change anything, the Senate bill already passed.”

By Monday, Meehan had met with Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melanie Pursel, who has prepared a letter to be sent to Annapolis opposing the legislation. The mayor had also made many calls to the area’s representatives to express concerns but had not heard back.

As the bill approached the House on Tuesday afternoon, Meehan asked for direction from the council.

“These are the things that we thought was exactly going to happen,” Council President Jim Hall said. “That they would get the casino built and then the restrictions and limitations would start dropping down.”

Jim Hall added that despite Ocean City’s and Worcester County’s attempts to be a good partner the changes were added to the bill.

“They should have been put in a separate bill because this is going to be a statewide vote and we are just little Worcester County and a little casino at the racetrack,” he said. “It is kind of a shame but for me I would hope you would go up [Annapolis] … and voice our opposition because this was exactly our thought of what was going to happen, and it is happening right before our eyes.”

Jim Hall forecasted that first the casino will serve free food and liquor, followed by the construction of hotels and motels and next will be a convention center.

“When you have free drinks and free food when you’re in Las Vegas it’s fair game because everybody has the same opportunities … but here they [Ocean Downs] will be the only one,” Meehan said. “It is unfair competition.”

At yesterday’s hearing, according to an Associated Press article, Delegate Frank Turner reportedly said “major changes” will be needed to be made to the Senate’s version of the bill for it to pass the House Ways and Means Committee. Turner said his main concern was the increased share of the money the operators stand to make under the Senate bill.

2 comments on “Bill Easing Casino Restrictions Worries OC

  1. We knew this was coming and I can tell you that we knew it was coming the day that they passed the bill four years ago,” Meehan said.

    WELL then if your crystal ball worked correctly, WHY weren’t plans made over the last FOUR years to embrace these changes? Thats 48 months of planning….STRATEGIC PLANNING!!! City HALL – you just refuse to get “IT”. OC has and continues to be the MD legislature’s CASH COW. You can continue to try to place strict rules/laws/policies in place to “protect” family interests (**family related restaurants Why does everyone think Hall mentioned free food/drink **) – however the big state of MD will trump you every time! Focus for the state (if you haven’t noticed) is finding additional revenue streams (you know, like the ongoing discussions of adding parking meters to the North end of town). THEY have looked to neighboring states (PA, DE, WVA) and seen additional cash flow with casino’s and now want MD’ers to stay in state to spend their $$$! Isn’t that a smart idea – have the revenue that continues to pour out to PA, DE and WVA stay in state…WOW what a grand idea that is!

    We are now in the 21st century folks – either step up or move aside for someone else to take the lead. Good ol days of the Fish Powell’s, Harry Kelly’s, Trimper’s, Baker’s, Bunting’s, et al; tiny time bickering about extending the airport runway; coming to a solution to marketing the city; marketing the city on local buses, vans, trams; medallions for taxi’s; ciggy butts; horses on the beach; etc. etc., are over! The 10K+ voters (ha) want solutions geared by proper planning…STRATEGIC planning for OC’s future – not someone commenting we knew the sky would fall 4 years ago..or we don’t have a voice against big bad MD. Remember, MD NEEDS Ocean City – parlay (gambling term there) our May to September advantage into a positive so everyone succeeds! Those MD cars that head to Midway or Dover – they will come to OC. So what if they eat (via comps – another gambling term) and drink for free – they have to stay somewhere right? Last I checked there are XXX amount of rooms in OC! (why someone doesn’t have a hotel/motel actual count is besides me. Oh that’s right we demi-flush the number of folks each year using 1980′s logic) OC also has XXX amount of restaurants that serve full meals too. Gamblers will not eat junk all the time nor do vacationers want to be price gouged EITHER! Sometimes one must take two steps back to go one step forward!!!!

    Gambling in MD is here to stay. The main attraction/focus will be the National Harbour area near Washington DC, 2nd focus will be OC! To the gloom and doomers out there, change is always challenging and upsetting, but planned properly everyone can prosper! ~BUSHMAN!

  2. This tiny little backwards state never has had the vision to be in the forefront of anything . . . except over taxing and making people move out. They still do not even have a clue about how much money they are losing out on by not embracing full blown gaming.

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