Md. ballot question: Gambling expansion

The allowable area for a casino to be built in Prince George\'s County includes National Harbor, above, and Rosecroft Raceway. (AP)

WASHINGTON – On Nov. 6, voters will weigh in on critical issues facing regional states, including the Virginia government’s right to seize private property and the issues of gay marriage, tuition for undocumented immigrants and expanded gambling in Maryland.

WTOP has compiled additional information on some of these topics. Take a moment to learn a bit more about what will be on the ballot this fall.

Maryland Statewide Ballot

Question 7: Gaming Expansion
Gaming Expansion Referendum

In this question, the state of Maryland asks voters to decide if they support expanding commercial gambling in the state for “the primary purpose of raising revenue for education.” This would authorize venues with video lottery machines to add “table games” as defined by law.

If the expansion is approved, it would:

  • Increase from 15,000 to 16,500 the number of video lottery terminals allowed to be operated in Maryland
  • Increase from five to six the number of maximum video lottery operating licenses the state can issue
  • Allow a video lottery facility to open in Prince George’s County – (Editor’s note for clarification: The referendum must be approved by a majority of statewide and Prince George’s voters in order for a facility to be allowed.)

How it will appear on the ballot:

    Do you favor the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education to authorize video lottery operation licensees to operate “table games” as defined by law; to increase from 15,000 to 16,500 the maximum number of video lottery terminals that may be operated in the State; and to increase from 5 to 6 the maximum number of video lottery operation licenses that may be awarded in the State and allow a video lottery facility to operate in Prince George’s County?”

  • For the Additional Forms and Expansion of Commercial Gaming
  • Against the Additional Forms and Expansion of Commercial Gaming

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Gambling expansion has been a hot-button issue in recent months, leading to widespread campaigns from both supporters and opponents that have cost more money than was spent in the entire 2010 gubernatorial campaign, according to a CBS report.

As an example of the campaign’s exorbitant costs and interest, Penn National Gaming, Inc. has spent more than $20 million on ads decrying the initiative, according to The Daily Record, which reports the company believes a new gambling facility in Prince George’s County – likely at National Harbor – would “hurt the bottom line of Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia.”

But proponents of the gambling expansion say it would be a general boon for the state.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, a Democrat, says Question 7 “will strengthen our public schools, our neighborhoods, and our local economy,” according to a statement. Her sentiments are echoed by the county executives of Montgomery, Howard and Prince George’s counties – the last of which is slated to host a new casino.

“As I have said before, Question 7 is not about gaming and casinos in Prince George’s County,” says County Executive Rushern Baker III, a Democrat. “It is about creating jobs and revenue for the State of Maryland.”

He issued this statement in September with neighboring counterparts Ike Leggett of Montgomery County and Kenneth Ulman of Howard County, both Democrats.

“Failure to pass Question 7 would mean that we would be saying no to new revenue sources that will protect our investments in critical areas like public education,” he says, “and failure to pass Question 7 would mean that we would be saying no to increased economic development and jobs.”

The trio of executives also pointed to Maryland money lost to casinos across the West Virginia border.

A local economist with the Sage Policy Group – commissioned by the pro-casino committee For Maryland Jobs and Schools, Inc. – says up to $1.5 billion a year of “spending power” is lost to Charlestown, W.V., home of Charlestown Races and Slots.

“Many slot machines that presently exist are played by Marylanders,” economist Anirban Basu tells WBAL, adding most Marylanders who play in Charlestown come from Prince George’s County.

A facility in Prince George’s County would make “our machines more accessible,” he says, and would inspire all casinos to “step up their game.”

Revenues would go primarily to education, according to the ballot question, and bolstered facilities would create jobs, some regional leaders say.

The chairman of the Maryland AFL-CIO says this would produce 12,000 “good” jobs, and the president of the Maryland chapter of the American Federation of Teachers said earlier in October the casinos would generate $199 million for Maryland public schools.

Not everyone sees such a rosy future under the new legislation, however. A September Washington Examiner report says additional money from gambling doesn’t mean schools get a penny more.

The Examiner’s Ben Giles reports that even with additional gambling money going to education, analysts also expect the state to cut the allotment of the state general fund used for education.

“The casino money that goes to schools doesn’t add to the amount of funding for state schools, it just relieves the need for tax dollars to be used for education aid,” Neil Bergsman, director of the Maryland Budget & Tax Policy Institute, tells the Examiner.

Other opponents say the introduction of more gambling will hurt existing establishments elsewhere. Delegate Pat McDonough, R-District 7/West Harford, referred to a new facility at National Harbor as a “Doomsday Casino” in an August Letter to the Editor published in The Baltimore Sun. He said state lawmakers passed a gambling referendum “that will destroy the gaming industry.”

“The handwriting is already on the wall,” he wrote. “The Hollywood Casino in Perryville lost 40 percent of its business in 30 days after the grand opening of Maryland Live Casino in Anne Arundel County.”

Penn National – the company spending millions to defeat the expansion measure – opened the Perryville casino in 2010, The Daily Record says.

Republican activist Robin Uncapher says the proliferation of gambling, even if it keeps money from flowing to West Virginia, will create an unsavory backlash.

“Gambling hurts the quality of life,” she said in a September segment on “21 This Week.”

“Businesses don’t like to be near places with prostitution, places with crime, and that’s what happens with places with gambling” such as Atlantic City, she says. “We’re next to the most affluent government in the world, and we’re talking about competing with West Virginia?”

The November 2012 election will be Marylanders’ last chance for casino reforms under Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, who tells WTOP he wouldn’t revisit the issue while he’s governor if it doesn’t pass this fall.

For more information, visit the Maryland State Board of Elections website.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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