A special session in Annapolis will convene Thursday to consider an Atlantic City-style casino at National Harbor in Prince George’s County–and whether five slots parlors approved by a statewide referendum in 2008 can soon offer table games. Internet gambling is also on the agenda for existing slot locations. UPDATE: House Speaker Michael Busch has taken Internet gambling off the agenda for the special session.
Some lawmakers are upset that a draft of the bill has not gone public this close to the start of the session, but they are getting a crystal clear message that expansion of table games will require passage of the sixth casino at National Harbor.
A fair number of lawmakers in the Anne Arundel Delegation worry that National Harbor’s proximity to the DC and Virginia markets, at the junction of the Anacostia Freeway and the Capital Beltway, will siphon revenue from Arundel Mills casino, where the Cordish Company has invested over $500 million and hired 1,500 staff.
Leading up to the special session, the Cordish Company has asked for a 12 percent reduction in the state tax for the Arundel Mills location, as well as additional tax credits to offset the revenue loss that will result from National Harbor – should the measure pass.
Baltimore City delegates also fear the planned location for National Harbor will intercept DC and Virginia gamblers on their way to Baltimore, where a casino is planned for the Inner Harbor in 2014.
Del. Curt Anderson, chair of the Baltimore City Delegation, is pushing for concessions in exchange for a nod on splitting the pie six ways instead of five. He wants several bills passed that would raise Baltimore’s borrowing limit for school construction and lump teacher pensions in the calculation of Maintenance of Effort.
Anderson’s attempt to squeeze a little more juice out of the lemon has put him at odds with Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who believes Anderson’s aggressive approach could kill the chance for Baltimore to expand to table games. She too believes there’s a quid-pro-quo in the air that allows for table games at the current slot sites–only if National Harbor is approved.
Anderson told the Spy on Monday that he has voted against every gambling bill since 1973 when the lottery was born, and he’s voted against every expansion of the lottery since. He also said he voted against the slot parlors in 2007.
But with the cat out of the bag, Anderson is convinced he has no choice but to get something for Baltimore city schools in the deal.
“Before I vote for another casino in Maryland, I want new schools built in Baltimore City,” Anderson said. “How can I go back to my constituents and explain how I didn’t do something for education” if gambling is a forgone conclusion.
Politicos close to the deal making say calling the “over-under on passage is tough one” and that the O’Malley administration knows the margin of victory will be slim if the measure passes at all.
Maryland is in a gambling arms race against neighboring states for the lion’s share of the regional market–on the promise that state coffers will fill up with money for education. But groups that study the negative effects of gambling say government partnerships with casinos are commercially exploitative and harm the very populations casinos promise to enrich.
“In an insatiable quest for more and more tax revenue, many state governments have become the chief partner and enabler of Big Gambling,” says Get-Government-Out-of-Gambling Dot Org, a group that has chronicled the negative impacts of gambling. “The result across the country over the last thirty years has been a massive expansion of government-sanctioned gambling – with little public input or scrutiny of the metastasizing social costs.”
“The government-led explosion of gambling has resulted in tens of billions spent each year on an industry that produces very little beyond lots of losers,” said the National Gambling Impact Study Commission. “Americans lost $91 billion on all forms of gambling in 2006. More money was spent on gambling than on recorded music, theme parks, video games, spectator sports and movie tickets combined.”
In Maryland, an all out public relations blitz has wrapped approving the sixth casino at National Harbor around the future of education and job growth.
“It is the biggest public policy failure in the last 50 years and is the real reason there is no intelligent debate on building casinos in Maryland,” said Les Bernal, executive director of the Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation in Washington, DC. “Maryland lawmakers refuse to have any intelligent conversation on the impact gambling will have on its citizens.”
“It is a business model based upon pushing the middle class deeper into personal debt — by creating an addiction and then feeding off of the addicted,” Bernal said in a phone interview with the Spy on Monday. “More than half of the profits from casinos in Maryland come from addicted gamblers.”
Bernal said crime rates would climb steeply as a result of the casinos and would be a result of a failed government program.
“Atlantic City is the poster-child for a failed gambling partnership with government,” Bernal said. “The casinos there fuel crime and social dysfunction and they encourage people to lose their money.”
Davies elaborated that the expansion of gambling in Maryland will see a rise in personal bankruptcy, unemployment, suicide, divorce, alcoholism, and drug dependence that has tainted government sponsored gambling.
“They want the addicted personalities,” Davies said. “The feed you with free drinks and get special exceptions from smoking prohibitions in buildings…they don’t want you leaving the table to go outside to grab a cigarette…they don’t want you to think about all the money you are losing.”
Davies pointed to a study by the University of Maryland that showed how gambling would disproportionally effect the poor, elderly and minorities.
Calls to Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin were not returned by the time this story was filed.