A Good Point

From the Baltimore Sun:

As Gov. Martin O’Malley makes a pitch for slot machine gambling as part of his attempt to address a $1.7 billion budget shortfall, a powerful retail lobby is asking that he go one step further by pushing for table games.

The Maryland Retailers Association, miffed by O’Malley’s inclusion of a state sales tax increase in his budget package, is suggesting instead that the state approve full casinos.

Without them, Maryland will lose customers to West Virginia, which has approved slots and table games in some jurisdictions, said Tom Saquella, president of the organization.

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They are absolutely correct. There is no way slots can generate the income O’Malley is talking about. To do so slots in Maryland would have to generate a higher gross than the combination of slots in West Virginia and Delaware combined. It would be surprising if anyone actually believed that is possible.

While slots are by far and away the single most effective generator of cash for casinos, they don’t generate the same economic effect as table games. People who head for the slots parlor don’t tend to stay in a top quality hotel, go to good restaurants, or seek much in the way of entertainment. If you doubt my assessment visit Charles Town, West Virginia and look around.

In principle, I don’t have a problem with subsidizing a niche sport like racing so long as it is part of a coherent, privately managed, program of gaming. Table games at Laurel, for instance, in conjunction with slots would not only boost Maryland racing but it would generate tourist dollars and create businesses in the area.

Right now the O’Malley slots strategy isn’t much more than a Potemkin program designed to deflect attention from fairly massive tax increases on all Marylanders. I hope the General Assembly demands more from him in the upcoming legislative session.

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