BERLIN – As expected, Governor Martin O’Malley this unveiled his plan to authorize as many as 9,500 slot machines in Maryland as the final piece of his revenue increase plan to tackle the state’s projected $1.5 billion deficit, but what is unclear in the slots proposal is where they might go and how they might affect the resort area.
O’Malley on Wednesday announced his plan to allow slot machines in Maryland, making his fifth such announcement in as many days as his administration attempts to address the projected state deficit, which depending on which numbers one believes, could be as high as $1.7 billion. Other initiatives announced this week by the governor include a complex income tax reform package, an increase in the state sales tax, a cut in the state property tax and the closure of many corporate loopholes.
While each of the initiatives could ultimately have a lasting impact on local residents, the last shoe to drop was the announced slots proposal on Wednesday. Ocean City has officially opposed slots for years each time the issue has surfaced, and the local business community last month voiced their collective displeasure with the gaming machines with an aggressive anti-slots campaign waged on marquees throughout the resort.
The business community’s sentiment about slots had not changed this week despite the governor’s announced proposal, according to Ocean City Hotel/Motel/Restaurant Association (OCHMRA) Executive Director Susan Jones. The OCHMRA was scheduled to have a board meeting yesterday during which they planned to reiterate their position on slots, but prior to the meeting, Jones said she expected no changes to its opposition.
“We haven’t seen the details, but I expect we will remain steadfast in our opposition to slots anywhere in Maryland and particularly in our local area,” she said.
While the governor’s slots plan is not specific at this point in terms of where the gaming machines would be placed, it does suggest placing as many as 9,500 slot machines at various locations around the state including some at horse racing tracks and others at stand-alone destination locations.
Under O’Malley’s plan, the slots would be state-owned and would recapture the revenue lost to neighboring states and reinvest it public education, school construction and higher education, for example. The governor’s office estimates Marylanders currently spend $400 million playing slots in neighboring states such as Delaware and West Virginia.
Another lynchpin of the governor’s slots plan is the attempt to salvage Maryland’s failing horse racing industry. According to the figures in the plan, horse racing is a $600 million industry in Maryland that employs about 18,000 people and preserves over 600,000 acres of open space across the state. However, increased pressure from other racing venues in neighboring states with the added attraction of slots has hampered the racing industry in Maryland.
“As we continue to work with the Maryland General Assembly to reach consensus, I will introduce a slots proposal that keeps Maryland horse-racing competitive with surrounding states, preserves horse-related agriculture in Maryland, and invests in our shared priorities, like public education, school construction, higher education and community colleges,” O’Malley said this week.
However, not everyone is enamored with O’Malley’s slots plan including some in his own administration. For example, State Comptroller Peter Francot said in a prepared statement this week, “I am disappointed that the governor has chosen to include a proposal to legalize slot machine gambling and open the door to full-blown casinos. As we have seen in other states, the enormous pressure to expand gambling intensifies before the first machine is even turned on- and there is no reason to believe that things would be any different here in Maryland.”