Slot Machines In Maryland: What We’ve Learned So Far

Posted on October 8, 2009

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It has been 11 months since the voters of Maryland decided, in last November’s referendum, to allow slot machines at five locations in the state. Here are some of the things we have learned since then:

  • It’s feasible to jump-start a modest slot-machine operation in an out-of-the-way place, without a whole lot of nosey neighbors. Ocean Downs harness track on Route 589 in rural Worcester County comes to mind. Latest news: 600 slots by Memorial Day, 2010.
  • By contrast, it’s an epic struggle to open a big-time slots casino on prime real estate at the state’s largest and newest mega-mall, with a bunch of aggrieved  homeowners swarming around like angry bees. (“Not in my back yard!”) Arundel Mills mall on Route 100 in suburban Anne Arundel County comes to mind. Latest news: Parties are bickering over who has accurate aerial photos of the mall and surrounding highways and subdivisions. No decision in sight.
  • Most of all, we’ve learned that selecting a site for a major casino is strictly a business decision. It’s all about location, like siting a McDonald’s, or a Walmart. Location, location, location. People with big money to invest in a big casino are looking for an advantageous location, serviced by major highways. A site where they can maximize profits.

This might explain why none of the major horse racing tracks in Maryland is going to have a slots casino. Nobody goes to those racetracks any more. There are better sites for slots, if you’re looking to build a casino and make a lot of money.

The whole slot-machine thing started out as a gimmick to “save the horse industry” in Maryland. Put some slots at the racetracks — where they have gambling anyway — and attract people and horses back to the tracks, saving the noble sport of horse racing, the “sport of kings.”

When the people of Maryland voted for slot machines last November, they were voting with the foregone conclusion that the largest slots casino would be at the Laurel Racetrack. Now the people find out that the largest slots casino — 4,750 machines — is proposed for Arundel Mills mall.

There will be no slot machines — zero slots — at Laurel. And no slots, not a single machine, at Pimlico or Rosecroft, the other big tracks. Nevertheless, a nice slice of the slots profits is guaranteed — under the constitutional amendment passed last November — to subsidize the private business of horse racing. It looks like the voters have been taken by the old “bait and switch.” It’s hardly surprising that the voters who live near Arundel Mills are not amused.

— Bernie Hayden

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Posted in: Maryland, Politics