Special Session On Gambling in Maryland

Posted on August 10, 2012

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Ocean Downs Casino, interior shot

Ocean Downs Casino, interior shot

Here it is the dawg days of August, and the General Assembly is back in Special Session in Annapolis. It’s the second Special Session this year. Makes you wonder if Maryland legislators can accomplish anything at all without a Special Session.

Gov. Martin O’Malley called this August session to consider the urgent issue of gambling. Specifically, more gambling. More than the five casinos already authorized! How’s that going, by the way?

Only two small casinos, up north in Cecil County, called the “Hollywood Casino,” and down east in Worcester County, called “Ocean Downs” near Ocean City, have been open more than a year. Hollywood has just asked to give back 500 of its video slot machines because there just aren’t enough customers to play them. Ocean Downs is operating with about half the slots it was authorized for. It’s busy in summer, half-empty in winter.

The big daddy casino, dubbed “Maryland Live” opened only this summer at Arundel Mills Mall in Anne Arundel County. And after four years, the other two casinos — a big urban casino in Baltimore and a little country casino at Rocky Gap out west — are still on the drawing boards, mere figments of the imagination.

After all this gambling success, to whom is more gambling in Maryland an urgent cause?  To Senate President Mike Miller, that’s who. He’s the longest-serving Senate president in state history. Why is it urgent? I don’t know; ask Mike Miller. They say he’s powerful, and that would appear to be an understatement.

At issue in the Special Session:

  • Adding a sixth casino, a big one, at the “National Harbor” development in Prince George’s County, just outside Washington. Or maybe at the bankrupt Rosecroft Raceway, also in Prince George’s. Or why not at both?
  • Authorizing “table games,” like in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, at all six Maryland casinos. How do you like the state’s new motto: “What happens in Maryland stays in Maryland?”
  • Increasing the take of the big gambling corporations by reducing the tax they pay on their gambling operations.

Who stands to benefit from this frenzy of roulette and black jack and craps and video slots everywhere in Maryland? The big gambling operators who run the casinos, of course, most of them out-of-state interests. I’ll name them all in a the next post, if I have time.

I have long admired and trusted Gov. Martin O’Malley and Speaker Mike Busch, who is long-time leader of the Maryland House of Delegates. Why are they putting their good names on the line for the advancement of gambling? O’Malley and Busch have both expressed opposition to gambling in the past, or at least healthy skepticism, going back for years.

Now the governor and the speaker have turned and become gung-ho supporters of gambling expansion. Why? You’d have to ask them. O’Malley’s claim that it’s all about jobs is ludicrous. What’s happened to change their minds?

The only reasonable explanation is also frightening. The fact that both Gov. O’Malley and Speaker Busch are pushing strongly for gambling expansion can only mean that the state’s financial situation is a lot more desperate that generally acknowledged.

Can we possibly be that close  to bankrupt?

— John Hayden

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