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The siren song of a sixth casino

Casino and Gambling IndustryElectionsSalesBusinessMartin O'Malley

At considerable taxpayer expense, Gov. Martin O'Malley convened a special session of the General Assembly last month to expand gambling to a sixth site in Prince George's County. If his proposal is approved by the voters in November, this legislation will result in no real financial gain to the citizens of Maryland, oversaturate the state with casinos, and seriously jeopardize the revenue that state and local governments are receiving from operations at the current casino sites.

Question 7, as it is known, also sends a pernicious message to potential investors that the state of Maryland is an unreliable business partner. Although the legislation that passed in 2008 indicated that there could be an expansion of gambling sometime in the future, nobody expected that an additional gambling site would be approved before the original five sites had an opportunity to become fully operational with measurable results.

The voters of Maryland will clearly see that the legislation being voted on as Question 7 on the November ballot is unfair. It is unfair to the citizens of Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County. It is unfair to those employed at the existing casinos who could lose their jobs as a result of the impact of a sixth site. It is unfair to the local businesses that provide goods and services to those casinos already authorized under current law.

Above all, Question 7 is unfair to all Maryland citizens who are facing an increase in their taxes and for whom a sixth site will mean absolutely no relief.

Question 7 promises short term gratification at the expense of a future clouded with pitfalls for the entire state.

Can anyone calculate the number of jobs that will be lost at the Baltimore City and Anne Arundel casinos if a mega-casino opens in Prince George's County? Question 7 has no "magic bullet" that can assure citizens they will be "held harmless" from these job losses.

Question 7 doesn't provide any relief to those businesses that will suffer from the decline in customers coming to Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County. Question 7 doesn't "hold harmless" the people in the retail and service industry in and around these casinos who will lose their jobs.

Question 7 conjures up fiscal formulas which have no basis in anything other than speculation and will do nothing to help citizens faced with higher taxes and continuing unemployment. It lowers taxes on casino owners in the unfounded expectation that this will raise revenue because of the new casino site. Question 7 provides that the citizens of Prince George's County will subsidize Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County losses. How long do you think that will last before some new formula is devised that will return those funds to Prince George's County?

Equally disturbing is the message that Question 7 conveys to our business community. The developers of the casinos in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in these projects. Arundel Mills Mall is seeing thousands of new customers, and the Baltimore City casino promises the major redevelopment of a long vacant area along Russell Street. It is now fundamentally unfair to tell these developers that the map we used to pass the video lottery facility law that gave them their licenses to operate has been changed so that we can put a sixth site in Prince George's County.

Question 7 poses more questions than answers. There is a simple reason why. It does not address those issues of fundamental fairness that should always be at the heart of our economic development policies. It does not address the consequences for the citizens of the state of Maryland that will result from the ill-conceived dilution of our gaming market.

We cannot and should not blindly believe that all will be well and the money will flow with the addition of a sixth site in Prince George's County. We have heard that siren song before and had nothing but buyer's remorse when it was over. Citizens should vote "No" on Question 7.

John R. Leopold, a Republican, is Anne Arundel County executive. His email is jleopold@aacounty.org.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Casino and Gambling IndustryElectionsSalesBusinessMartin O'Malley
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