It's difficult to know whether to be more insulted or admiring of Penn National Gaming's latest effort to milk the residents of Maryland (and perhaps some surrounding states) for all they are worth. For sheer chutzpah, it's hard to beat a company that releases not one but two consultants' studies revealing that turning Rosecroft Raceway into a massive casino could be extremely profitable for — drum roll, please —— Penn National Gaming.
Well, duh. Was there some doubt lingering in the public's mind that installing thousands of slot machines as well as possible table games in a brand-new facility in the Washington suburbs might generate much in the way of jobs or revenue? (Pardon while we resume our seat on the back of a turnip truck that we inherited just yesterday, the same day we were born and arrived in this country.)
Clearly, the folks at Penn National think waving some huge economic impact numbers might stir the cash-strapped elected officials in Upper Marlboro and Annapolis like juicy sirloin steaks dangled in front of hungry dogs. Allow 6,500 slot machines at Rosecroft, and one can expect more than 6 million visitors per year and gaming tax revenue in the neighborhood of $400 million annually.
But wait, there's more that comes with these Ginsu knives. Total employment might increase by 6,000 to 7,000 jobs during construction (depending on whether table games are included), for a total boost to Maryland's economy of $2.5 billion over the next five years.
What's not to love? Huge revenues! Thousands of new jobs! More help for Maryland's foundering horse racing industry by turning what has been a modest, lightly attended, unprofitable harness track into one of the nation's largest racinos!
Well, here's a thought. What might building a huge casino mean for the facility with 4,750 slots already under construction at Arundel Mills, just 30 miles away? While acknowledging the competition from Arundel Mills and the four other sites authorized to have slot machines under a voter-approved constitutional amendment (as well as out-of-state facilities), the studies don't have much to say about how much cannibalism might be involved.
It would almost certainly cut the legs out from under Arundel Mills, and considering how hard Penn National has fought developer David Cordish over the project, one has to wonder if that isn't the point: a little payback for Mr. Cordish's victory at the polls last year, when Anne Arundel County voters gave Arundel Mills rezoning their blessing.
But really, the most galling thing of all is that Penn National seems to believe what happened in the past — all the Sturm und Drang required for Maryland to legalize slots and tightly restrict them in these five locations — can be ignored and the constitution rewritten to give the company this golden ticket to print money like it was the Federal Reserve.
That Prince George's County isn't home to one of those sites already is mostly a product of local opposition, particularly from many of the county's clergy (who, incidentally, reiterated their objections to the Prince George's County Council just hours after the studies were released). The list of Prince George's lawmakers who vigorously opposed slots at the time included a fellow named Rushern L. Baker, the current county executive.
That's not to suggest Rosecroft should be written off as a lost cause or even that there aren't opportunities to tweak Maryland's restrictions on gaming down the road. Interestingly, a recent statewide poll by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies found 55 percent of voters oppose increasing the number of slot machines in the state, but 51 percent favor adding table games (and 23 percent oppose more slots but want blackjack, poker and roulette.)
But to create a super-casino that would dwarf the state's largest (before it even has a chance to open for business) in order to save a Prince George's harness track? With apologies to harness racing, if that's not a case of putting the cart before the horse, we don't know what is.
Thanks, Penn National, for reminding us that you're always available to build and operate a giant casino anytime Maryland decides it absolutely has to have one. But guaranteeing one year of live racing at Rosecroft or buying a couple of studies that suggest slots are profitable doesn't mean we owe it to you.