Baltimore Plots Raid on Education’s “Casino Lockbox”
Less than a year after Maryland voters overwhelmingly passed “Question 1: The Gambling Revenue Dedicated to Education Lockbox Amendment,” Baltimore politicians are proposing to divert money from it to pay for the reconstruction of the Pimlico Racetrack.
The plan is part of an agreement to give still more public money to the owners of Pimlico for facilities renovation. The arrangement is intended to keep the Preakness Stakes at the northwest Baltimore track. Yet, from 2010 through 2018, Maryland’s horse racing industry, including breeders and the harness racing tracks, have already received $415 million in state financial support. Of that about $66 million has gone to racetrack facilities.
According to the Baltimore Sun: “Crucial to the plan is convincing lawmakers to extend the life of a subsidy for the tracks called the “Racetrack Facilities Renewal Account.” The state’s casinos each pay a certain percentage of their slot machine profits into the fund, which is used for upgrades at the tracks.
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“Backers of this new Pimlico and Laurel proposal want to use that money to help pay off $348 million worth of bonds, to be issued by the stadium authority, that would finance most of the $375.5 million redevelopment. But casinos are only required to pay the money for 16 years after they open. So, the racetrack renewal money will start running out in 2026 and be gone after 2032. For the plan to work, lawmakers would have to change state law to extend the payments from casinos to cover the 30-year payback of the bonds.”[i]
Buried in this description is the bottom line. Extending the length of time payments are made to pay for racetrack facilities comes with a cost to education. Payments that would have begun flowing to education as soon as 2026 will instead be earmarked to continue subsidizing racing through at least 2050.
A Baltimore Sun editorial let its boosterism get the better of it by brazenly misrepresenting the proposed deal. The paper ignored that money will come at the expense of the “lockbox” for education.[ii] At a minimum, this means that a further $119 million will now be diverted from Maryland education to support horse racing.
Do not let their attempted sleight of hand surprise or fool you. They already warned us.
Last year, during the consideration of the “Casino Lock Box for Education” referendum, a skeptical Baltimore Sun editorial explained how easily the “Lock Box” could be breached, commenting: “We hate to break it to you, Maryland, but you’re being taken for a ride again.”[iii]
Truer words are rarely spoken by the Sun.