Regardless of supporters’ pleas that money that’s currently fleeing to West Virginia will, as if by magic, return to Maryland if we only allow more gambling and another casino, the question about Question 7 remains: who do we believe? Their question about what Maryland loses can be flipped on its head and asked: who gets the real benefit?
Of course, those who oppose Question 7 call it:
…a massive rip off for Maryland families because it shifts hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts to multi-millionaire casino operators while sticking working families with a $260 million tax increase and shortchanging Maryland teachers and students.
The questions really come down to those of trust and responsiveness.
Back in 2008, when the law was first passed by Maryland voters, a number of parameters were set. The two most key were setting the locations for the five proposed casinos and the cut each entity would get. Many said then the proportion which was slated to go to casino operators was too low, and that theory may have been borne out when few takers were found for the various slot barn licenses. The state figured all five facilities would be online by now; instead just three (Perryville, Ocean Downs, and Arundel Mills) are in operation.
This referendum allows the state to change the proportions for return to licensees to suit particular situations as well as correct what some obviously perceived as an oversight, with a proposed facility near Virginia and Washington, D.C. But it’s not like the casino in Charles Town wasn’t there when the original bill was passed.
It points out the weakness I warned about when the Constitutional amendment was considered in 2008: there’s very little flexibility to adapt to changing conditions. Had the General Assembly done its job like it was supposed to, Maryland may well already have table games and whatever number of locations the market could bear. Instead, we’ve learned the hard way that there isn’t much of a market for slot machines in rural areas (Perryville and Ocean Downs are lagging) and we’ve given other states a huge head start on table games. All these could have been addressed by the General Assembly but they punted.
Indeed, supporters of Question 7 may make it seem like we’re leaving millions of dollars on the table – a very dubious proposition when you consider the total costs of gambling. Virginia seems to do just fine without casinos. But voting no also rebuffs a General Assembly which hasn’t done its job. The opponents make a good point when it’s stated that, while the money raised by gambling goes into the educational pot, the money is taken away at the other end and sucked into that black hole known as the General Fund.
The 2014 ballot should have a provision which removes the section of the Maryland Constitution specific to slot machines and instead authorize casinos in the general sense that horse racing tracks and the Maryland Lottery are already allowed. Then any needed changes can be made during a regular or special General Assembly session rather than waiting until November of an even-numbered year (while other states progress merrily onto table games and sports betting.)
Frankly, the only people who seem to be profiting off this particular battle are the political consultants, advertising agencies, and media outlets who put out and broadcast the dozens of spots we see during the week on both sides. If we vote yes, MGM stands to gain millions; if not, Penn National maintains its market share. Personally I’d rather the state concentrate on good manufacturing jobs which actually create things than entertainment jobs which depend on the regressive tax gambling truly is.
In Maryland, the gambling genie is already out of the bottle. Honestly I have no issue with the ability to wager, which doesn’t cost me more than the few dollars I occasionally spend on Powerball or MegaMillions tickets. But if they were going to adopt casino gambling it should have been done right. Let’s step back, take two years to write the proper legislation, and remove voters from the equation in 2014.