Pro-Slots Camp Dominates Cash Contributions

OCEAN CITY – It remains to be seen which way voters in Maryland will go on the slots issue when they head to the polls next month, but if the decision strictly comes down to which side raised and spent the most to advance their cause, there will likely be one-armed bandits at Ocean Downs in the near future.

The state Board of Elections this week released campaign finance information for two of the more prominent pro- and anti-slots groups in Maryland detailing how much they have raised in contributions and how and where they are spending the money. The gap between the amount of contributions each group has received to date is staggering with the pro-slots groups gaining nine times the amount the anti-group has received.

The pro-slots For Maryland, For Our Future group reported receiving nearly $3.8 million in contributions, while the most active and vocal anti-slots group, Marylanders United to Stop Slots, reported just over $411,000 in contributions.

The total dollar amount contributed could be less telling about how the referendum might turn out than the sources of the contributions. For example, the Marylanders United to Stop Slots report includes 12 pages of contributions including some fairly significant donations from businesses and other entities, but also scores of entries from private citizens ranging from $50 to $100 to as much as $1,000.

By contrast, all of the contributions received by the pro-slots For Maryland group are concentrated in a handful of entries on just two pages with several contributions of $1 million. Nearly all of the contributions on the pro-slots side have come from the horse racing and gambling industries including $2 million from Laurel Racing Association Ltd through its parent company Magna Entertainment; $1 million from Penn National Gaming, which stands to gain from a potential slots venue in Cecil County; and another $300,000 from the Maryland Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association.

Also listed among the major contributors on the pro-slots side is the Allegany Racing Association, which has contributed $250,000 in nine different installment payments. Ocean Downs owner William Rickman, who will likely seek a slots license for his Berlin racetrack, has reportedly contributed $250,000 to the cause, but the only entry on the campaign finance report directly linked to Rickman is a $25,000 donation through his Fallsgrove Holdings LLC.

It’s interesting to note companies with a remote interest in slots in Maryland not directly involved in the state debate have made sizable contributions to the pro-cause including the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers in Nevada at $100,000, and International Game Technology, also of Nevada, at $50,000.

On the anti-slots side, the Marylanders United to Stop Slots group reported contributions totaling just over $411,000, but its list of contributors is vast, but with much smaller individual entries. The largest single entry on the anti-slots side came from James G. Robinson Foundation at $75,000. Robinson is a Baltimore native who owns and operates the nationally known Morgan Creek Productions film company.

Otherwise, the anti-slots group of contributors has a decidedly Ocean City flavor with several significant entries by the local business community. Nearly 20 percent of anti-slots camp’s money has come from the resort area.

Topping the list locally is the Harrison Group, which owns and operates numerous hotels and restaurants in town, contributing $50,000 in two installments.

Other local businesses and entities from the area on the list of contributors include $5,000 each from Time Inc. and Ocean Amusements, which are connected to resort hotel and amusement park owner Charles “Buddy” Jenkins. Another $5,000 was contributed by Berlin outfit Decatur Investments, along with $5,000 more contributed by the Gudelksy family, which owns and operated several marinas and restaurants in West Ocean City.

The list of local businesses contributing to the anti-slots cause goes on and on. For example, Hooper’s and Fager’s Island reportedly contributed $2,000 each to Marylanders United to Stop Slots, while Seacrets, Tio Gringo’s Inc., the Clarion and Bahia Marina pitched in $1,000 each.

Perhaps more importantly than how much each side has raised is how they are spending the money and directing the resources. For example, the anti-slots Marylanders United group has reportedly spent just over $268,000 of its $411,000, mostly on media outreach, although $93,000 was reportedly spent on salaries. Marylanders United reportedly has nearly $143,000 left to spend in the weeks leading up to the election.

By contrast, the pro-slots For Maryland group has spent about $3.3 million of its coffers, most of which has been directed on an extensive television and radio blitz in the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas.