Casino Leader Talks Expansion Plan’s Potential

OCEAN CITY — Hours after voters across Maryland approved an expansion of gambling in the state including table games, Casino at Ocean Downs General Manager Joe Cavilla was already talking about an expansion at the gaming facility on Route 589 near Ocean Pines.

On Tuesday, a majority of the state’s electorate approved Question 7, a referendum on a bill that will expand gaming in Maryland including the addition of table games at the state’s current and future casinos and the addition of a sixth casino in Prince George’s County, among other things. On Wednesday morning, Cavilla was put on the spot somewhat when asked during an Ocean City Economic Development Committee (EDC) meeting what the approved referendum question means for the Casino at Ocean Downs.

“We’re excited about what it brings to our area,” he said. “I’m not really prepared to talk about plans today, but we’re excited about the potential for the future.”

Cavilla told EDC members the existing facilities at the Casino at Ocean Downs are just about maxed out in terms of space and suggested an expansion is likely to accommodate some of the provisions allowed under the approved legislation.

“Over the next two or three months, we’re anticipating an expansion,” he said. “The facility was built for what it is now. We’re considering an expansion, but the reality is, the facility as it is now can’t hold much more.”

The Maryland General Assembly this summer convened a special session to consider proposed legislation aimed at expanding the state’s nascent casino gambling programs after state lawmakers could not approve a similar bill during the regular General Assembly session. The resulting legislation called for an expansion to table games, such as blackjack, poker, craps and roulette, for example, and the addition of a sixth approved site in Prince George’s County. The legislation also includes the creation of a State Lottery and Gaming Control Commission, an appointed body which would hold purview on all gambling policies in the state.

However, the bill needed approval from Maryland voters through the referendum process. On Tuesday, the state’s electorate approved Question 7 with 52 percent in favor and 48 percent against. In Worcester and Wicomico counties, the percentages were similar.

Statewide, proponents of the bill argued an expansion to table games would stop the flow of gaming dollars into neighboring states that currently offer them, particularly West Virginia and Delaware. However, opponents argued the legislation represented a sell out to the big casino operators with higher revenue shares, lower tax rates and an empty promise for more money for Maryland schools.

After months of debate and an estimated $90 million waged in one of the most expensive campaigns by both sides in state history, state voters approved the referendum question on Tuesday. Cavilla said an eventual expansion to table games and some of the relaxed provisions on what the Berlin casino can offer patrons could help put the Casino at Ocean Downs on the gaming map. He said an expanded presence will only help the entire region.

“It’s an opportunity to promote ourselves more and make us a destination and make the entire area a destination,” he said. “We’re getting people in the offseason and we know they’re not staying at our place, so we’re pretty sure they’re staying here in Ocean City. We’re lucky to be part of this greater destination.”

EDC Chairman and Ocean City hotelier Michael James agreed an expansion to table games could trigger more offseason business in the resort.

“Studies show table games have really helped the lodging industry,” said James. “Slots alone are really not conducive to overnight stays.”

Meanwhile, the Maryland Video Lottery Commission this week released the October revenue numbers for the state’s three operating casinos and the results were mixed. The state’s three casinos generated $39.6 million in revenue in October, led by Maryland Live, the new juggernaut in Anne Arundel County, which alone garnered $30.6 million.

The Casino at Ocean Downs generated $3.5 million in October, which represents a decrease of $319,285, or roughly eight percent, from October 2011. The $3.5 million generated in October loosely follows a pattern established for the offseason months at the Berlin casino, which is affected by seasonal fluctuations just as all businesses are in the resort area. In September, the Casino at Ocean Downs generated $4.9 million, for example.

In terms of revenue per machine, per day, the Casino at Ocean Downs saw a similar decline from September to October. In September, the facilities 800 machines generated $204.37 per machine, per day. In October, the number dropped to $141.54 per machine, per day. The Casino at Ocean Downs’ contribution to the Education Trust Fund in October came in at roughly $1.7 million. The local impact grant contribution for the month came in at $193,053.