BERLIN — When voters head to the polls on Tuesday, among the top issues of local importance will be Question 7, a referendum on gambling in Maryland including an expansion to table games and the addition of a sixth casino.
There has been no shortage of campaign rhetoric on Question 7 flooding the airwaves and filling up mailboxes in recent weeks, making for a tough decision for many local voters attempting to sort through the blather to the facts. Supporters say the referendum question promises thousands of new jobs, millions in new local impact grant money for the jurisdictions in which the casinos are located, including the Casino at Ocean Downs, and millions more in new education funding.
In addition, supporters say it will stem the flow of millions in Maryland gambling money into neighboring states such as Delaware and West Virginia, for example, where table games are already up and running.
Question 7’s detractors call the bill a sellout to big gaming interests in Maryland with higher takes and lower tax rates, while providing little in new education money.
The issue is complicated and multi-faceted, and it has become difficult to decide what to believe through the multi-million-dollar campaign blitz, but Worcester County and Lower Shore representatives in Annapolis clearly believe in it.
“Worcester County alone stands to gain millions in additional revenue that is currently being sent to Baltimore City and Prince George’s County,” said Delegate Mike McDermott (R-38B). “A vote for Question 7 is a vote to keep millions of dollars on the shore instead of sending it off to Baltimore City and Prince George’s County, and who on the Eastern Shore would oppose that?”
McDermott was referring to a section in the state’s current gaming legislation that sends local impact grant money derived from revenue collected at Ocean Downs to those jurisdictions. While it is true an estimated $500,000 in local impact grant money currently sent to Baltimore and Prince George’s County will stay in Worcester when new casinos are built in those jurisdictions, that issue is not part of the Question 7 package. However, the bill does promise an additional $200,000 in local impact grants each year in Worcester on top of what is already distributed.
Locally, the bill would increase the Casino at Ocean Downs’ share of the gross revenue from the current 33 percent to 43 percent, while lowering the casino’s tax rate from 67 percent to 57 percent.
Senator Jim Mathias (D-38) said this week he supports Question 7 because state voters approved casino gambling in a 2008 referendum and an expansion to table games and the addition of sixth casino is a natural progression in the state’s gaming industry challenged by aggressive neighbors.
“This has been a very thoroughly discussed issue in Maryland,” he said. “This is an important piece of economic development the citizens approved in 2008 and the industry has continued to evolve in our region. It’s clear to me the citizenry in Maryland is interested in it.”
Mathias said the bill allows the state’s fledgling casino industry to be competitive with its neighbors, while providing protections for the tourism-related interests.
“This will create jobs in the district and give the franchise holders the tools they need to succeed,” he said. “The bill protects our economic base in Ocean City and I think we’ve been smart and willing to compromise.”
For McDermott, the issue is clear.
“When West Virginia and Delaware tell you Question 7 is a bad idea for Maryland, you certainly must consider their motivation and the hundreds of millions that they stand to lose if Marylanders keep their money in state,” he said.