For years, Marylanders have argued over gaming. In years before, much of the contention seemed to center on the moral and social considerations of gambling—whether it leads to addiction, personal bankruptcies and increased crime and becomes a scourge on already-suffering communities.
This election, the referendum on gaming elicited more politically- and economically-influenced arguments.
Question 7 asks Maryland voters to decide on whether to expand gambling to include:
• Las Vegas-style table games such as poker and roulette;
• increase casinos’ operating times to 24 hours; and,
• extend a sixth license for a casino in Prince George’s County
Opponents of the bill denounce the manner in which the legislation was brokered—muscled through the legislature by the Democratic establishment during a special summer session of the General Assembly; and seemingly entertaining the bid of only one casino operator, MGM Resorts International for the Pr. George’s license. They also say a sixth casino would have a deleterious effect on the other facilities, giving undue competition in a already saturated market.
Detractors also question the veracity of the bill supporters’ claims that an expansion of gambling would create jobs and revenue, particularly for education. In the latter case, while the bill specifies that a particular percentage of gambling revenue will go into the State Education Fund, it does not specify that the funds cannot be used for something else, they say.
On the other side of the table, government officials and others, notably Gov. Martin O’Malley, say an expansion of gambling is a necessary tool to shore up Maryland’s economy—a tool several other states have employed. Marylanders spent $1 billion over the past decade at the popular Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia, helping that state build its schools. Expanding gambling in Maryland could bring in $161 million annually, the Department of Legislative Services has estimated, helping this state invest in its schools and other infrastructure. Gov. O’Malley had vowed that a significant portion of gaming earnings will be invested in schools, as designated by the bill, and his previous commitment to education seems to support that claim.
Advocates of the bill also point to its potential boost to the local labor market. In Baltimore alone, expanded gambling could mean 1,700 permanent jobs—thousands more are estimated in construction and in operations for the Pr. George’s development. It could also mean a boost in the local tourism industry and gains for local businesses, particularly minority-owned enterprises.
Among the local economic benefits is the existence of Black equity ownership participation in the Baltimore casino. The ownership of such a significant economic enterprise by local Black business people is an important achievement which we believe should be supported and encouraged. The competitive advantages created by the approval of Question 7 will improve the chances for success of the Baltimore casino.
Many of the challenges facing the State of Maryland involve the existence of insufficient economic resources. Without the projected funds generated by the passage of Question 7, the badly needed improvements in the state’s education facilities will apparently either not be addressed or require additional taxes or other state wide belt-tightening many may not find to be pleasant. The continued national recognition Maryland’s Education system has received in recent years like the federal government’s Race to the Top program could also be jeopardized.
Because of the potential gains—jobs for Black unemployed and underemployed, ecomomic opportunities for Black businesses and Black business persons, funds for much-needed investment in schools and other crumbling infrastructure and a general uptick in the state’s economy—the AFRO cannot find any rational basis for not supporting Question 7.
The AFRO endorses Question 7 and urges all Maryland voters to vote “Yes” for Question 7.