I AM MOST DISMAYED by your editorial of Oct. 11 regarding casinos in Maryland. As one of the five past chairmen of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce who participated in this study, I can only say that we were not "way off base." May I remind you that J. Henry Butta, the study group's chairman, is the same individual who was called a "village idiot" when his corporate stadium study group was the first to recommend the Camden Yards site as the new home of the Orioles.
Our casino gaming recommendations were based on fact, not emotion, as a result of six months of literature research, public hearings and, most importantly, visits to four casino site locations where extensive interviews were conducted.
Fact: The casino entertainment industry is a legitimate industry dominated by publicly held companies that fall under the scrutiny of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The industry's growth over the past five years outpaces nearly all other U.S. industry groups with annual revenues in 1994 exceeding $16.5 billion. Casinos now are operating or are approved in 26 states and employ some 295,000 workers.
Fact: There is absolutely no evidence that casino gaming is influenced by organized crime. We found this industry to be highly regulated and the most closely monitored of any industry in America. The occasional corruption that has occurred generally centered around the awards process and was always politically driven. I would hope that Maryland's political officials are above that kind of activity. The council's recommendations clearly call for strict regulation and a regulatory authority free of political influence and patronage.
Fact: The issue of crime was thoroughly studied and it was found that on a visitor-adjusted basis, violent crime in the cities visited was significantly reduced due to increased security and enhanced police protection. Specifically, your editorial cites the tripling of the crime rate in Atlantic City. In fact, crime in Atlantic City on a visitor-adjusted population compares very favorably with other tourist destinations.
Fact: Casino gaming is a large revenue producer. Just ask Biloxi, Miss., (a near-bankrupt city in 1990 now operating at a substantial surplus); or Louisiana, which received $125 million upon signing a casino agreement for New Orleans with Harrah's, and is guaranteed a minimum revenue stream of $100 million each and every year for 30 years; or New Jersey, which garners some $275 million annually from its casino industry.
Fact: The Chairmen's Council did not call horse racing a "dying industry" nor did it embrace casinos as a preferred replacement as you stated. The council strongly supports the racing industry, but believes the industry itself has the primary responsibility to market its products and take action to meet its competitors. We believe that slot machines and perhaps some other types of gaming products are appropriate for racetrack facilities, a step recently taken by our neighbor Delaware.
Your editorial did a disservice to the readership and the council by not dealing with real facts or the real issues. The real issues are jobs (3,000-plus per casino), enhanced tourism (as would be the case with a Western Maryland or Baltimore Inner Harbor location), and the positive impact on overall economic development.
It is "truth or consequences" time. Either one accepts the "truth" about casino entertainment and its overwhelming positive aspects, or Maryland suffers the "consequences" of a continued outflow of gaming dollars to Atlantic City (some $840 million annually), which will be compounded when our neighboring states pursue the gaming opportunity.
Richard E. Hug