Delegate Urges Support For Expanded Gambling

SNOW HILL — With the future of gambling in Maryland on the ballot this fall, Delegate Mike McDermott visited the Worcester County Commissioners this week to explain exactly what new legislation allowing table games and new casinos could mean for the area.

“It’s a significant win for Maryland,” he said of Question 7, a gambling initiative that residents will be voting on next month.

Question 7 is a multi-layered bill that would allow table games in the current slots-only casinos as well as the development of a sixth casino in Maryland. If passed, it would also allow Worcester to retain a greater percentage of the revenue it receives from the Casino at Ocean City, a portion of which is currently sent across the bay to the Western Shore.

Besides allowing the county to keep more of the revenue generated at the local casino, gambling expansion would increase the money coming in by allowing the extension into table games, noted McDermott. On top of that, he promised, it would boost job creation both locally and statewide, with construction jobs across the bridge building the sixth casino and dealer jobs at all casinos that add table games. One final bonus associated with the effort is legalizing the use of slot machines for non-profit organizations.

Throughout the last legislative session and leading into a special session this summer, the benefits in terms of realized revenue and flexibility in gambling for more rural areas were added as an incentive to secure the backing of the Eastern Shore, according to McDermott.

“I think a lot of these things were added because they needed support,” he told the commission.

Even if Question 7, which deals specifically with adding table games and a sixth casino, doesn’t pass Worcester will still see some additional perks, though not nearly as significant as those they would receive if the initiative fares well among voters.

Though overshadowed on the state stage by big issues like table games and adding casinos, McDermott briefly touched on how gambling expansion might affect Worcester by way of impacting Ocean City. When original approval to install slots in Ocean Downs was vetted, state legislators promised to protect Ocean City’s status as the shore’s entertainment and resort destination by limiting what kinds of activities besides gambling that would be allowed at the casino. Live entertainment and hotels were mentioned often.

Under the coming expansions, these regulations would loosen somewhat, though McDermott promised that the priority is still to protect the resort’s role in the community.

“I thought that the bill held harmless Ocean City,” he said.

Even after wooing over extra votes, getting Question 7 on the ballot wasn’t an easy sell. A resolution to the gambling issue couldn’t be reached during the last regular legislative session in Annapolis, leading Gov. Martin O’Malley to call a special session in August.

At that time, some headway was made in getting the bill moving and out to the voters. However, McDermott pointed out there has been a strong pushback against the legislation in the form of a massive negative advertising campaign deriding Question 7.

The ads, which have received a lot of air time during the last month or so, claim the existence of backroom deals amongst casino moguls and O’Malley’s administration. Other negative advertisements assert that many of the jobs the Question 7 promises will be low-wage or even trending towards undocumented workers. Additionally, opponents of the proposal argue that five casinos in Maryland are enough and that adding another won’t result in any marked increase in revenue.

While the volume of criticism against Question 7 is severe, McDermott waved off a majority of it by revealing that many of the ads against the initiative are being funded by casino owners from neighboring states like West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

“That’s whose funding all of those ‘citizen’ groups,” he claimed.

In that situation, McDermott pointed out that those shooting down Question 7 the loudest have a clear bias and could potentially lose millions just in the short run should gambling expand in Maryland.

McDermott’s final request to the commission was that it become better informed about all of the issues surrounding Question 7 so that the commissioners can better answer constituent questions. Though he has personally been vocal in advocating for the initiative, McDermott did not ask any of the commissioners to publically endorse it, only to understand all of the angles.

“I’m asking you to be informed,” he said.

While not saying yay or nay to how he hopes voters will treat Question 7 at the polls this fall, Commission President Bud Church did express gratitude that McDermott would make the effort to discuss the issue with the locals it will affect.

“I thought it was a very good presentation … the good news is he took the time to talk to us,” said Church.