Pocomoke, Snow Hill Could See Casino Revenue Share

SNOW HILL – County officials agreed to explore the possibility of extending casino revenues to Snow Hill and Pocomoke later this year.

On Tuesday, the Worcester County Commissioners voted unanimously to track the revenue the county receives from gambling at the Ocean Downs Casino during the next six months and consider allocating some of it to the municipalities at the south end of the county.

“I feel as though it’s time that Snow Hill and Pocomoke share in this money, a portion of it,” said Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw.

Because municipal officials from Pocomoke and Snow Hill referenced the lack of casino revenues their towns received earlier this month during budget presentations, county staff provided the commissioners with an overview of the current casino revenue disbursement. State law provides that 5.5 percent of the proceeds of video lottery terminals shall be distributed as local impact grants. Of that, Worcester County gets 60 percent, Ocean City gets 20 percent, Berlin gets 10 percent and Ocean Pines gets 10 percent. Harold Higgins, the county’s chief administrative officer, said until 2023 the county would be using its portion of the casino revenues to pay off the debt associated with construction of Worcester Technical High School.

“It would be my recommendation not to change the allocations at this time,” Higgins said.

Lockfaw said that when the allocations were set, the casino didn’t have the table games it had now.

“I can tell you citizens of Pocomoke and Snow Hill feel as though they supported gambling in Worcester County to begin  with yet they were kept out of the funding,” Lockfaw said. “They got nothing.”

Higgins said that was because they weren’t as close to the casino.

“The grant was initially put in place to give relief to communities directly affected by operations within the casino,” he said, adding that experts weren’t predicting a large increase in revenues associated with table games.

Commissioner Jim Bunting said he thought that if there was additional revenue it should be directed toward public safety.

“Our fire companies are consistently asking for more money,” he said.

Commissioner Ted Elder said he would support giving Snow Hill and Pocomoke a portion of the county’s casino revenue.

“I don’t know why anyone would put table games in if it’s not going to generate more revenue,” he said.

Commissioner Bud Church said early projections called for a drop in revenue following the installation of tables games. He said he wouldn’t want to change any allocations before there were some revenue figures to study.

“I think any decision now would be a little premature,” he said.

He echoed Higgins’ comments regarding the logic in the original allocations. He said the areas where there would be the most impact on roads, public safety and the like were given grants.

“It didn’t reflect on Snow Hill or Pocomoke because they weren’t going to be directly affected,” Church said. He added that the commissioners had not been aware Ocean Pines was being included in the funding formula until the last minute.

Lockfaw maintained that the county had been divided when the initial allocations were made.

“I’d hate to see the same mistake made again…,” he said. “We need to think about the entire county as a whole not just one section.”

Elder agreed.

“Because we’ve been doing wrong doesn’t make it right to continue to do wrong,” he said.

Lockfaw made a motion to study the revenue coming in from the casino so that the funding allocations could be reconsidered in six months. Church seconded the motion.

Higgins said the commissioners still had to pay off the Worcester Tech debt.

“You still have a plan to use $2.5 million for debt service going forward,” he said. “I don’t think you need to rush to do anything until you’re through the debt service payment.”

Commissioner Chip Bertino asked whether Higgins was suggesting that the commissioners delay reconsidering funding allocations until 2023.

“That was my recommendation,” Higgins said.

Lockfaw maintained that he wanted to review the allocations in six months. The commissioners voted 7-0 in favor of his motion.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.