Question 7, the legalization of table games and expansion of approved casinos to National Harbor, is predictably the most expensive race being run in Maryland this year. Primarily funded by Casinos both for or against the question, other than Rob Sobhani it appears to be the only campaign with ads on television.
If you listen to the Casinos that aren’t here and want to build a new one, it sounds like a great deal. If you listen to the Casinos that are already here, voting for Question 7 will probably kill your cat. If you’re like me, you think there are already too many cute cat pictures all over the internet and are probably inclined to vote for Question 7, but let’s take a look at why you should vote for or against Question 7. Full disclosure, I once went to Las Vegas and I had a lot of fun.
1. More money for education. The legislature dedicated a portion of gambling revenue toward education so if you expand gambling to table games and a fifth site, there will be more money for education. The anti-crowd points to the fact that nothing in the law says MORE money will go toward education, only that it will be dedicated. The anti-crowd is absolutely right. Don’t expect to see more money go toward education if you vote for Question 7, only that you’ll have a dedicated pot of cash. Annapolis loves to shift funds whether it is from Program Open Space (even though O’Malley promised not to raid it) or the always victim Transportation Trust Fund. This is nothing new and exists for every revenue source in the State.
2. Taxes. Probably the most effective ads are the Against questions pointing out that this legislation gives Casino owners a tax break after asking regular citizens to pay higher taxes. It is true; however, the irony is the tax break was pushed by the crowd funding the ads against Question 7. It was always acknowledged when Maryland passed the initial slots bill that the tax rate was too high. The new tax rates are to correct the folly of the original legislation, which passed overwhelmingly at the ballot when it comes to ownership of slot machines and initial outlay of funds due to the belief that there would only be 5 sites. It is true that this legislation cut taxes for the casinos months after taxes were raised on others but it’s a claim without any perspective into just how high the tax rates were and why they are being cut.
3. Jobs. First on the construction jobs that are promised, the anti-crowd is saying that 90% of Marylanders won’t qualify for the jobs. This is true, but it’s due to union rules, something that if they mentioned in their ad would make all the Democrats they need to support it look bad. Only 10-15% of Maryland workers fall under the category of union construction workers so the anti-crowd is essentially union bashing in their ad, something that would sell Republicans, but as we know in Maryland you don’t care about Republican votes. Nobody is disputing (that I know of) the new 4,000 permanent jobs related to the dealers, pit bosses, and other casino jobs that would have an average salary of $55,000.
4. Fairness. The idea is that Maryland gave its word that there would be 5 sites, and they made their investment based on 5 sites. Essentially Maryland is damaging its reputation by changing the rules after the fact. This is true, and governments do this all the time. Isn’t that the case with any change in law? They increase taxes on you, but you made the decision last year to invest in something thinking about how the tax laws were then, and now the investment won’t pay out because of the change. You may think that the Ex Post Facto would apply here but it doesn’t.
5. John Leopold with an asterisks. If you hear a particular amount of complaints from politicians that already have a Casino in their jurisdiction, specifically Anne Arundel County, remember that they get a special cut of Casino profits, and if the Casinos lose money, so do the counties. Every time Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold speaks, he should mention that he has a conflict of interest here in balancing his own budget. The Maryland Live Casino will see the largest hit with the opening of a National Harbor site. Of course, I heard that David Cordish makes the pit bosses at Maryland Live change Leopold’s colostomy bag every time he comes in, so that might require another conflict of interest statement when he talks.
6. Location. Here is one that no one is talking about. Other than the Baltimore City site and the Maryland Live site, all the Casino locations are close to border spots, however they only are near borders with states that already have full table games. Opening National Harbor would give Maryland an opportunity to do what no other Casino in the state does and that is draw money from outside of Maryland. Since Maryland and D.C. are doing so much better than we are when it comes to job creation, wouldn’t it be nice to get a little money back.
7. Freedom. We allow the lottery, we allow slots now, and we allow church carnivals with all their evil games of chance. If you are inherently against gambling and voted against the original bill, nothing is changing that you would like when it comes to expansion of gambling. But if you want to have the freedom to do what you want and don’t want a nanny stater to tell you what you can and can’t do, this opens up one more freedom to a Marylander.
I will give it to the “Vote No on 7” crowd; they are exploiting all the existing problems in Maryland to make this deal seem bad. It is an effective advertising campaign and is working as a recent survey came out and found that the question is currently losing by 2%. And “Vote No on 7” side is not lying about it either, but neither side is. How can this be as good as the pro-side says it is, but as bad as the anti-side says it is? It’s the whole reason I like being a political operative, the level of spin can be ratcheted up so high that there is no such thing as a fact.
But when you decide how to vote, ignore all of the arguments and just answer the basic question, should we allow table games in Maryland’s current casinos and at National Harbor?