SNOW HILL — Revenue at the Casino at Ocean Downs is “trending up” this year, according to General Manager Joe Cavilla, though members of the Local Development Council (LDC) did express some worry over some weak months during their meeting Monday.
Additionally, the council agreed to support a letter from Ocean City asking state legislatures to limit what role a casino can play, especially in regards to offering free liquor and accommodations.
“December was pretty scary,” said LDC Vice Chair Jim Rosenberg after viewing this year’s revenue. “We had some pretty short months there.”
Rosenberg noted that there was a 45-percent difference in the amount of revenue Worcester County received from the casino in December as compared to July. The county, which receives a slice of all revenue earned by slots at Ocean Downs, also received less money in January, February and April of this year as compared to last, by about $45,000 between all three months.
Revenue roughly broke even in May of both years, with Worcester getting slightly more in March of 2012 at $110,475.53 as compared to last year’s $107,280.83. Current estimations for June of this year have it on par with last year.
Despite the disappointing winter numbers, Cavilla was optimistic the casino has gotten its bearings after only installing slot machines last January.
“I think it’s just the nature of this area,” he said of the low winter earnings. “Seasonality in this doesn’t surprise me.”
Cavilla pointed to some of the partnerships the casino has been forming this year as evidence that the organization is beginning to hit a rhythm. Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan agreed.
Delegate Norm Conway (D-38B), said that his main goal is to foster an atmosphere of “mutual benefit” between Ocean Downs and the surrounding communities.
“I would hope there will be some direct contact back and forth between the communities,” he said.
In keeping with the formation of working relationships, Meehan asked the LDC to support a letter he penned on behalf of Ocean City asking Annapolis to keep “a level playing field” by not allowing casinos to distribute free liquor or develop hotels, convention centers or amusement parks.
In his letter, Meehan reminded state representatives that promises were made by them to safeguard Ocean City and the other communities in Worcester from having to compete against a loaded deck, which he claimed could happen if casino were unchained and able to offer free liquor and accommodations.
“When the original legislation passed, there were specific regulations put in place and agreed up by the voters that protected the established business community in Ocean City,” wrote Meehan.
The mayor, who is also the LDC chair, went on to say that Ocean City hosts 10,000 hotel rooms, 28,000 condominium units and over 300 restaurants and bars and a convention center.” If Annapolis pursues law changes like those proposed in their last session that would loosen restrictions on what a casino can do, Meehan asserted that traditional businesses in the area would be threatened. Hotels, amusement parks, and convention centers should strictly remain the purview of towns and cities, he added.
“These entities are the backbone of our established tourism industry in Ocean City, and any changes regarding these facilities would have a lasting and devastating effect on our local business community and jobs in Ocean City,” he wrote. “We only have one industry in Ocean City and that is tourism.”
According to Cavilla, the casino is sensitive to Ocean City’s concerns and currently is not seeking to change the law.
“Legislation isn’t really being pushed by us at this point,” he promised Meehan.
The distribution of free liquor at the casino, which was one of Meehan’s chief concerns, is something that Cavilla claimed the gambling industry is moving away from as a whole in many places.
“The expectation there is changing, I think,” he said.
Things like free food vouchers, however, Cavilla said are often expected. For his part, Meehan recognized that food vouchers are needed to compete with out-of-state locations, as well as to attract bus trips and day trippers. However, he remained opposed to legislative changes that would allow the “open-end” giving away of free food.
The LDC voted unanimously to support Meehan’s letter, which has been sent to John Morton, chairman of the Maryland Work Group to Consider Gaming Expansion as well as delegates and legislatures.
However, it appears no changes to the structure of Maryland’s gaming laws are likely immediately, as the work group failed to reach a consensus over the possibility of adding a sixth casino to the state, altering the current 67 percent tax rate on slot machines and the addition of table games.