County Concerned Over Slots Legislation Specifics

SNOW HILL – Hiring practices, distribution of slots revenue and road impacts need to be clarified in Maryland’s current slot machine legislation, Worcester County staff attorney Sonny Bloxom warned the County Commissioners Tuesday.

“I looked at it from the standpoint of things that would really impact our county,” said Bloxom.

The attorney identified five items of concern in the legislation as written including the fact the law calls for hiring preference to be given to people living within 10 miles of a slots facility. In Worcester, Ocean Downs, located near the Routes 50 and 589 intersection, is the identified site.

“As you all know in the entire county, we have a very bad unemployment problem. The unemployment problem is more-so in the south end,” said Bloxom.

The hiring preference should span all of Worcester, he said.

“We want to be drawing folks all over the county,” said Bloxom, noting that it’s nothing for someone to commute from the south end of the county to the north end for work.

The second item of concern for the attorney relates to an apparent requirement preferring already trained personnel for employment at any slots facility. The county’s goal with slots is to promote employment and economic development, and Bloxom said these jobs are required by law to provide health insurance and retirement benefits.

“We’re trying to better our work force,” Bloxom said. “Nobody [in Worcester County] has the experience now.”

Commissioner Judy Boggs said the legislation means employees from Delaware would get top consideration.

“Otherwise, we’d be inviting experienced people from Delaware down here to work,” said Boggs.

The law also contains a provision requiring the County Commissioners to work with Ocean City’s mayor to appoint members of the local development council, which would determine how the county revenue from the slots facility would be distributed locally, if Ocean Downs was used as the county slots venue.

“The County Commissioners should make that decision,” said Bloxom. “It’s going to have impacts on the entire county.”

Commission President Louise Gulyas suggested that the two close towns, Ocean City and Berlin, have designated spots on the local development council.

The lower shore delegation already have built-in spots, said Bloxom, and the commissioners could perhaps put the mayors of the towns on the council, but that the mayors should not have veto power over council appointments as implied by the legislation, he felt.

“I thoroughly agree it should be the commissioners doing the appointments,” Gulyas said.

Traffic impact language is another potential problem, Bloxom said. The law says the state “may pay” for improvements to Route 589, from Route 50 to Route 113, and “may take” steps to ensure that plans to do the improvements are underway before or on the slots venue opening date.

The state watered down the language, Bloxom said, which should read “shall pay,” and “shall take.”

“They don’t want to be told they have to address these issues,” said Bloxom. “The whole idea of slots came form the state to help solve their economic problems, [but] these are impacts that are happening to our transportation system.”

The law as passed breaks down the revenue distribution between Worcester County (70 percent), Ocean City (20 percent), and Berlin (10 percent), but the distribution of funds ought to be up to the commissioners, Bloxom said.

The funds would be spent in accordance with a multi-year development plan the county will pass. The local development council will make recommendations to the County Commissioners on spending the money.

While the commissioners would look at the impacts on local communities like Ocean Pines, Ocean City and Berlin, the money should come to the county first, Bloxom felt.

The funds could then be granted to the towns in a similar fashion to the unencumbered grants Worcester County provides to all four municipalities and the public safety grant provided to unincorporated Ocean Pines.

“The county has always been more than fair to the municipalities,” Boggs said.

The towns would need to prove any impacts from slots when requesting gambling revenue.

“The largest impact I believe will be on Ocean City,” said Gulyas, who represents the resort. “It may just kill us.”

Commissioner Linda Busick suggested that a slots facility could bring business to the resort’s hotels, restaurants and other attractions.