From Harford County government:
County Executive Craig Testifies before State Work Group To Consider Gaming Expansion
The following is Harford County Executive David R. Craig’s testimony before the State’s Work Group to Consider Gaming Expansion on June 12, 2012:
Chairman Morton and Honorable Members of the Work Group,
Thank you for allowing me to testify before you today. I am here to respectfully ask that the work group c consider all options for gaming expansion, not just focusing on one license for one site, and to specifically ask that Harford County be looked at as a possible location for a license. Harford County voters supported the 2008 slots referendum by almost 2 to 1, and I am confident that given the potential benefits to county revenues, that they would be in favor of at the very least exploring the possibility of a casino in the county in one form or another.
In addition, I ask that the work group recommend that a special session not be held, in order to allow for a proper study of the state’s overall gaming strategy, and take up any action during the 2013 regular session. As Senate Bill 892 died an unceremonious death on Sine Die, I feel that it is appropriate to push the reset button and start from scratch, and to use the opportunity to give the issue a full and deliberate study, rather than trying to jam something through on the last day of session or in a Special Session lasting a couple of days. And as you all know, a Special Session does not have to be limited to the purported reason for calling the legislature back to the State House.
If your consideration of gaming in Harford County shows a beneficial outcome for the state, I ask that you recommend that the General Assembly consider legislation during the 2013 Regular Session that would allow for a statewide referendum to allow table games and to enable the Video Lottery Facility Location Commission to award a gaming license to Harford County. Furthermore, I feel strongly that the state legislation should specify that all of the Local Impact Grant revenue be allocated to Harford County Government, who then must appropriate 100% of those funds to the Harford County Board of Education.
I also advise the work group to carefully consider the idea that there may be other counties or contiguous groupings of counties in the state who would like the opportunity to recoup some of their losses from unfunded state mandates by asking their voters to approve gaming facilities in their jurisdictions. While it may not be realistic for every county in the state to have a casino, various counties could reach a revenue sharing agreement that allows multiple jurisdictions to share the costs and benefits.
Related to this, I ask that the work group and the legislature evaluate the fairness of allowing fraternal and veterans’ organizations in certain parts of the state to operate gaming machines, while those same organizations in other parts cannot. In my view, such organizations statewide should be allowed to operate a limited number of slot machines, not just those on the Eastern Shore.
Finally, I ask that the work group consider whether time deadlines should be attached to the enabling of certain jurisdictions to apply for a gaming license, in order to allow another jurisdiction to make a claim for a license that has otherwise gone unused.
Why am I making these requests?
The most recent session of the General Assembly and the Special Session that followed were particularly hard on Maryland’s counties. Long-term funding obligations were passed to us, most notably teacher pensions. At the full phase-in, Harford County will be obligated to allocate $10.3 million annually, which depending on whether the so-called offsets are still in place, results in a net liability of between $4 million and $8 million per year for us. While we are proud of our record of fiscal conservatism in past years which saw us achieve a AAA bond rating, you don’t just find $8 million by lifting up the couch cushions.
This new obligation has severely hampered our ability to provide additional funds for salary enhancements for teachers and to meet our long term capital needs for education. Although in the last seven years we have spent more than $300 million in county funds on school construction and renovation, the fact that the state has reimbursed us for less than one-quarter of that amount limits our ability to continue with needed improvements.
While I have never been a strong advocate of balancing the budget using gaming, but I do support the citizens deciding whether or not they want to have gaming in their counties in order to dedicate revenues to specific uses. In the case of Harford County, we would insist that the legislation and a referendum specify our county share as a new revenue stream totally dedicated to education.
I feel that other counties would also like to have this ability. Only allowing five or six jurisdictions to take advantage of this opportunity means that there are 18 or 19 counties that cannot. This is certainly not in keeping with the concept of “One Maryland.”
How would a casino in Harford County benefit the State and taxpayers?
A casino in Harford County would bring millions of dollars in new revenue to the state, and would provide additional dedicated funding for K-12 education in Harford County. It would also provide hundreds of additional jobs for the northeastern Maryland region.
Having two casinos within close proximity will turn the Upper Chesapeake region into a tourist destination, as the presence of two casinos and other attractions in the area will turn what would have been a “day trip” into a “weekend getaway.” Despite being only 27 miles away from the Hollywood Casino in Perryville, Delaware Park saw revenues rise slightly after the Perryvillle Casino opened. So you should not immediately dismiss the possibility of a casino in Harford County for fear of hurting Perryville without conducting a detailed analysis.
What really determines the success of a gaming facility is whether it is well-run and whether it offers something different than its competitors. Some casinos are adjacent to race tracks, while others offer various kinds of entertainment and fine dining. Given our location at the head of the Chesapeake Bay, I think it would be worthwhile to consider a riverboat casino for Harford County. Such casinos have been highly successful in towns and cities along the Mississippi River and on the Gulf Coast. A riverboat is also mobile, which means that it could even be shared with other areas of the state.
In summary, I ask that the work group not rush to judgment on an issue as important as this, and that the work group not exclude any jurisdiction in the state that wishes to be included in this process. I do not seek to derail the ambitions of any county or interest in this state; rather I am asking that all options be considered fully and deliberately. I maintain that an issue such as this is best left to be resolved during the regular session.