The Maryland Public Policy Institute
MPPI IN THE NEWS
TV ads are all very well, but in a real high-stakes propaganda war — like the one being waged by out-of-state casino companies on whether Maryland voters should approve expanded gambling — you need an economist or two on your side.
So, in the past week, we’ve had:
<> A report from Anirban Basu of Baltimore’s Sage Policy Group — one of the most respected economic analysts in the state — projecting that the passage of Question 7, bringing table games statewide and an extra casino license for Prince George’s County, would let the state reclaim $1 billion or more in money Marylanders would otherwise spend at the Charles Town casino in West Virginia over the next decade.
Basu reported that the revenues at Charles Town dipped by about 6 percent, compared to the same period in the prior year, in the three months after the Maryland Live! casino opened in Hanover. But that’s not enough for Basu, who believes that “Maryland casinos have not been good enough to change people’s behavior toward Charles Town” and that table games and a casino in Prince George’s County would do the trick.
For the study, Basu was paid $15,000 by a committee bankrolled by MGM Resorts International, which wants to build a casino at National Harbor in Prince George’s County.
<> A report by The Maryland Public Policy Institute — a nonpartisan research group that often criticizes the policies of Gov. Martin O’Malley — pointing out that most of the benefit from Question 7 would go to casino owners, not state taxpayers. The study also notes that 45 percent or so of the revenue from a Prince George’s facility would come from gamblers who would otherwise go to Maryland Live! or the casino planned for Baltimore City.
The author, Joseph V. Kennedy, an adviser to the U.S. Department of the Commerce under President George W. Bush, heads a Virginia-based research firm. The study was paid for by a lobbying firm with ties to the Republican Party.
So far as we can see, neither Basu nor Kennedy was dishonest. Their reports simply talk past each other, illustrating that if you start from different assumptions, you come to different conclusions. The two economists canceled each other out, leaving voters scratching their heads. But they may have fulfilled the deeper mission of economics, as defined by the economist Friedrich Hayek: “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”
Also, isn’t it a little ironic these reputable economists have been hard at work calculating the effect of thousands of people engaging in an activity no reputable — or sane — economist would endorse?