Slots Revenue Mirrors 1st Month

BERLIN — The second month’s batch of revenue numbers for the Casino at Ocean Downs were released this week, and if nothing else can garnered from the figures, it appears the new gaming facility in Worcester County is remarkably consistent.

Maryland Lottery officials this week released the February revenue figures for the Casino at Ocean Downs, which generated $3.13 million during the 28-day month. The numbers were up slightly from the $3.03 million the facility took in during January, but the comparison is valid because the casino officially opened on Jan. 4 and was, therefore, open for business the same amount of day during the first month.

A look at the per machine per day numbers for the 750 video lottery terminal facility near Berlin draws a similar comparison.

In January, the gross per machine per day figures came in at $144.45, but the figure increased in February to $149.19. A Department of Legislative Services report anticipated a per machine per day revenue take of $150, which the Casino at Ocean Downs nearly met in February. Of course, it’s expected the Berlin facility will really hit its stride when the summer season nears.

Of the roughly $3.13 million the casino took in during February, $1.5 million is dedicated to the state’s Education Trust Fund, while the casino’s share came in at just over $1 million. A little over $219,000 is dedicated to the horseracing purse account, while the local impact grants, money set aside for Worcester County, Ocean City, Berlin and Ocean Pines, totaled a little more than $172,000 for the month of February.

For the two months combined, the Casino at Ocean Downs has now generated roughly $6.17 million, with almost $3 million dedicated to the Education Trust Fund, a $2 million casino share, $431,000 to the horse racing purse account and $339,000 in local impact grants. The local impact grants total 5.5 percent of the gross gaming revenue, with 60 percent heading to Worcester County, 20 percent to Ocean City and 10 percent each to Berlin and the Ocean Pines Association.

In a not-so-subtle clause somewhat hidden in the bill approved by referendum in 2008 to allow slot machine gambling in Maryland, 18 percent of the local impact grants will be dedicated to Baltimore City through the Pimlico Development Authority, with another $1 million skimmed off the top each year for the community surrounding the Rosecroft Racetrack in Prince George’s County.

The slightly hidden dedication of a portion of the local impact grants to Baltimore City rankled at least one local legislator. Freshman Delegate Mike McDermott (R-38B) said this week the clause sending a share of the proceeds to Baltimore was uncovered when the local jurisdictions received figures from the state outlining the distribution of the funds.

“That’s when it was revealed that a provision in the bill signed to create the slots carried a sweetheart deal for Baltimore City to the tune of 18 percent off the top,” he said this week. “This is the same Baltimore City that rejected the notion of a casino in their backyard while demanding that rural Marylanders take one in their front yards. They do nothing, provide no service, suffer no infrastructure strains, and yet they get a bigger cut than our own local governments who bear the load.”

Meanwhile, Worcester County’s Local Development Council, an advisory body made up of local elected officials, private citizens and other stakeholders charged with figuring out how best to spend the local impact grants, met for the first time last week to lay the groundwork for a plan for the distribution of the funds. Of the roughly $339,000 in local impact grants thus far after the first two months of operation, Worcester County is slated to receive $203,400, while Ocean City will get $67,800 and Berlin and Ocean Pines will get $33,900 each.

One of the first orders of business for the Local Development Council was to select Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan as chairman. Berlin Mayor Gee Williams, who also serves on the council, said the first meeting was largely dedicated to defining the role of the appointed body.

“The group is more advisory in nature,” he said. “The county and the towns, including the Ocean Pines Association, will ultimately make their own decisions on how best to spend this money. I’m confident everyone will work well together.”

Williams said the council is sending a letter to each jurisdiction seeking a “wish list” of sorts for the types of projects or programs on which the slots revenue might be spent.

Williams also said Ocean Pines Police Chief Dave Massey will consult with the various law enforcement agencies to determine what special needs or concerns have come about from the opening of the casino.

“In Berlin’s case, we certainly want everyone’s opinion on what to do with the money,” he said. “In our case, anything we’ll recommend will be conservative. The funds can be used for a variety of things from infrastructure improvements to public safety to sanitation to economic development. You can see it’s pretty broad.”