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Question 7 will keep money for needed services in Maryland

Four years ago, Maryland voters went to the polls and overwhelmingly agreed to legalize video lottery terminal facilities in Maryland — including one at a vacant swath of land in South Baltimore.

After many years of delay, that decision is finally beginning to pay dividends for our schools and other critical services, with millions of dollars in gaming revenues starting to come in to state and local governments. But we have yet to fully realize the predicted boost in tax revenues, in part because in the years since voters approved slots casinos, our neighboring states have adopted changes making Maryland's casinos uncompetitive.

When we go to the polls on Nov. 6, Question 7 offers us chance to fix Maryland's gaming program, create jobs, and fund education all at once. Not only can we approve table games that will make our casinos more attractive to Marylanders interested in gaming opportunities, we can also draw millions more business visitors and tourists to spend entertainment dollars in our state — both in Prince George's County and right here in Baltimore — strengthening our local economies.

For the City of Baltimore, Question 7 offers particularly significant opportunities for jobs, revenues, and schools:

•A vote for Question 7 is a vote in favor of 500 more jobs at a $370 million, world-class casino that will be built along the Russell Street gateway corridor starting next year. That means 500 additional jobs on top of the 2,000 construction jobs required to build the facility and the 1,200 jobs required to run the facility with slots only.

•A vote for Question 7 is a vote in favor of dedicating the local tax on Baltimore City table games to Baltimore City school construction and the construction, maintenance and operation of Baltimore City recreation centers. That means we can have a dedicated funding source for key educational priorities that benefit our children.

•A vote for Question 7 is a vote in favor of increasing the state Education Trust Fund by $199 million per year once the law is fully implemented and the casinos are up and running. That means more money for school funding so that we can continue providing all of our children the tools they need to succeed — without having to raise other taxes. The health and funding level of the state Education Trust Fund is especially important for Baltimore City Public Schools because the state provides more than 80 percent of city schools' funding.

•A vote for Question 7 is a vote to strengthen Baltimore's current gaming location — with its close proximity to downtown attractions, sports stadiums, and excellent hotels and restaurants — as one of the premier entertainment destinations in the Mid-Atlantic region. As it stands, the ground lease agreement for the Baltimore casino will be used to provide crucial new revenue to reduce property taxes for city homeowners.

Put simply, each of these opportunities will strengthen our public schools, our neighborhoods and our local economy — all helping to get Baltimore growing again.

We have all seen the massive negative advertising campaign against Question 7 being waged by the company that owns a West Virginia casino. Why is this company willing to spend as much as $40 million on TV ads against Question 7? I believe the answer is simple: This company knows that if casinos in Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County and Prince George's County are blocked from offering basic table games, Marylanders will keep visiting its West Virginia casino and keep sending hundreds of millions of our dollars to West Virginia to pay for West Virginia's schools and to keep West Virginians' taxes low.

With table games found in casinos all around the United States, we know that the new Baltimore casino will become a substantial draw for tourists, business visitors and prospective convention business. This is a real opportunity for Baltimore to boost our tourism business and ultimately generate more revenues for classrooms, school construction and recreation centers — and no amount of negative TV ads will change those facts.

Question 7 presents us all with a stark choice. Vote in favor of growing jobs and building better educational opportunities at home, or vote to continue funding surrounding states like West Virginia with our entertainment dollars. Let's make it happen and keep Maryland's money in Maryland. It is that simple.

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is the mayor of Baltimore. Her email is mayor@baltimorecity.gov. Twitter: @MayorSRB.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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