The Maryland Public Policy Institute
Keeping up with the latest news on the gambling front in Maryland makes me understand why criminal enterprises are always so complicated and bloody. Somebody has access to a cash cow, and someone else wants in. In crime thrillers, that gets settled with guns, blackmail, bribery, and intrigue. Here in the world of politics, that gets settled through lengthy and expensive special legislative sessions.
It’s no secret that O’Malley is planning on a special session in July to deal with “the gambling issue.” Should we expand to allow table games? Should we build a sixth casino in PG County? Should we allow charitable groups outside of Baltimore County to hold casino nights? Everybody seems to have an opinion and (surprise, surprise), the ones with the most money to make – or lose – have the strongest ones.
Of course, charitable groups and non-profits are rooting for permission to hold casino nights to raise money. As well they should. Casino benefits have been a time-honored way for many organizations to stay in operation. Hopefully they won’t fall out of popularity with the general public once everyone lives within a half-hour drive of a massive, state-sponsored casino.
The real issues, however, deal with expanding legal gambling in Maryland to include table games and whether or not we should build another casino in PG County. Allowing table games would undoubtedly bring in more money from eager gamblers, but it would likely be contingent on decreasing the profit percentage that the state receives from 67% to 52%. That might be a trade worth making for our state, but it would be a good idea to run the numbers beforehand. It could just as easily mean lost revenue – and these casinos are supposed to be revenue generators for our cash-strapped state.
The decision to build an extra casino in PG County is one that also merits further study. Would the casino bring in more gamblers from out of state, or would it basically just shift income from one casino to another? If it wouldn’t mean a net increase in revenue, it’s not worth doing – at least not right now. Perhaps waiting until we have more data (e.g. after all five planned facilities are open) would allow us to make better decisions.
These are basic questions that any private company wouldn’t dream about going to market before answering. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that our legislators have all that in mind. No one has a knack for muddying up what should be a lucrative business opportunity (such as a monopoly on gambling) like the government.
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