Thursday, June 14, 2012

Untangling the Casino Industry Spin Machine: The Shifting Arguments for Gambling in MD // ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

BACKGROUND: For several months now, Maryland Juice has been concerned with the increasingly obvious influence of the gambling industry on Free State policymakers. Its not that I am some Puritan about gambling; rather, I have a real problem when I see a single industry able to dictate how so many of our policymakers' hours are spent.

It seems that many years ago, the casino industry decided that they wanted to bring gambling to Maryland, and ever since then they've just made up reason after reason why we need slots and table games. The argument changes depending on the season. All along, our politicians just repeat the industry spin like a bunch of sock-puppets.

First, the slot machine industry claimed we needed to save the horseracing industry. After slots revenues fell short, they argued we needed more. Moreover, we needed more money for things like education. Later came arguments about residents spending money in Delaware and West Virginia. Now, the argument is simply money (ie: greed). For policymakers to so willingly engage in this race to the bottom is a bit disturbing.

Maryland Juice believes it is time to stop the madness, because if we let slots and tables games move across the state, it will be impossible to put the genie back in the bottle. Below, you can see a brief review of the insanity:

SPIN #1: SLOTS NEEDED TO SAVE THE PREAKNESS: When slots were first proposed in Maryland, proponents of gambling claimed they were needed to save our majestic history of horse-racing. Indeed, today The Daily Record's Alexander Pyles reminded readers of this phony-baloney argument to bring gambling to Maryland:
DAILY RECORD: There’s little doubt that legalizing slots gambling was first proposed as a method to prop up the state’s flagging race horse industry. Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich made it one of his legislative priorities each year he was in office....

In 2006, The Washington Post reported that then-Gov.-elect Martin O’Malley also called for slots to be placed at racetracks in the state. The reason? The money would help prevent the “collapse” of the the racing industry....

THE PREAKNESS? ISN'T THAT KINDA RANDOM? - Indeed, Maryland Juice has been to the Preakness, and its lovely! The annual event gives attendees a wonderful excuse to wear lavish hats to the racetracks, while sippin' on "black eyed susans."

Take, for example, the image to the right from the 2011 Preakness. Baltimore Sun photographer Monica Lopossay captured this dapper couple decked out in elegant Preakness fashion.

An interesting question, however, is out of all the booze-filled parties in Maryland, why does this one in particular warrant statewide referenda, subsidies, and gambling? Is any one-day party really worth pushing residents to mindlessly drop millions of dollars worth of quarters into Caesars' slot machines?

Moreover, using the Preakness as an argument to promote gambling was always fishy. Indeed, it is quite manipulative to conjure up state pride and fond memories of ye olden times. But have you been to the Preakness lately? If not, here are a few photos The Baltimore Sun didn't include. They are from the 2010 Preakness and were posted by Chiara Atik at the Guest of a Guest blog:

YAY! WE SAVED THE PREAKNESS! - I don't mean to bash on The Preakness or booze-filled partiers per se, but I DO mean to bash on the idea that we should pull millions of dollars out of Maryland consumers' pockets in order to save the party above. But it is sort of a moot point now, because the horsetracks now have slot revenues pouring in, with millions more coming online soon. Last month, Barry Rascovar noted in the Carroll County Times (excerpt below):

CARROLL COUNTY TIMES: Time and again, politicians have thrown racing a lifeline. One of the most important steps was dedicating 9.5 percent of slots proceeds to racing.

The infusion of funds from two small slots parlors has boosted purses enough to generate new life on the backstretch.

Slots proceeds also are propping up the tracks, which continue to lose money except on big days like the Preakness.

In less than a week, David Cordish opens his slots-restaurant complex at Arundel Mills. Slots revenue there could be enough to double purse awards.

In a couple more years, Caesar’s Entertainment is set to open its Baltimore slots facility, which could mean another big jump in purses.

Also, the governor has a work group drafting legislation to allow table games at slots sites, plus one more gambling location in Prince George’s County – pending voter approval.

Those steps would add even more money to racing’s purse accounts.

PREAKNESS SOLVENT: ARE WE DONE YET? - Okay, so we saved the Preakness, and this was the main reason for bringing slots to Maryland. So are we done yet? If not, are the Preakness and horseracing really worth bringing gambling parlors to every corner of Maryland? They are literally talking about raising hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue from these things. That means, we're willing to gouge Maryland consumers to the tune of millions, all so that we can gamble on horses and have a booze party a few times a year? Uh, no thank you.

SPIN #2: SLOTS NEEDED TO STOP MARYLANDERS FROM GAMBLING OUT-OF-STATE: If the Preakness argument doesn't move you, gambling proponents have another one lined up. They argue that with West Virginia and Delaware opening slot parlors, we must stop our residents from spending money out-of-state. Their solution is to bring the slot parlors even closer to Marylanders. The result will obviously be that instead of the occasional gambling trip for the Maryland resident, many will gamble frequently in their own neighborhood.

Yesterday, Maryland Juice discussed a new independent report studying the impact of gambling expansion in Maryland. Notably, the analysis by PriceWaterhouseCoopers states that the most frequent visitors to slot machine barns will live within a forty-minute drive from the casinos. This simple statement makes obvious a simple fact: gambling proponents in Maryland simply make up whatever argument works at the time to get casinos approved.

NONE OF MARYLAND'S HIGH POPULATION AREAS ARE NEAR OUT-OF-STATE CASINOS - I decided to make a map showing a rough indication of how many Maryland neighborhoods are within a forty-minute drive of Dover Downs (a Delaware slot parlor) and Charlestown Racetracks (a West Virginia slot parlor). None of Maryland's most populous areas are close to the Delaware and Charlestown casinos. See below:

Areas in red are within a forty minute drive of a Delaware or West Virginia slot hall.

As you can see, hardly any Maryland communities are close enough to the Delaware and Charlestown slot parlors for us to be concerned about many residents making frequent visits. Nevertheless, gambling industry schills love repeating this ridiculous argument. In fact, if you look at the locations of the Maryland casinos in Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Prince George's, you can again see that the vast super-majority of frequent gamblers will be Maryland residents. Two of the three casinos don't appear to be close enough to any other states -- meaning, they are solely gouging Maryland residents. Even worse, the Baltimore and Anne Arundel slot barns seems to have completely overlapping potential customer-bases, raising the question why we need both facilities. YAY PREAKNESS!

Look at where they located Maryland casinos to respond to West Virginia & Delaware. Surprise! It was all lies!

Areas in red are neighborhoods outside of Maryland.

MARYLAND CASINOS HAVE NO REAL IMPACT ON FREQUENT GAMBLERS AT OUT-OF-STATE CASINOS - I combined the PriceWaterhouseCoopers map with my map showing the Delaware and West Virginia casinos below. As you can see, NONE of the Maryland casinos is close enough to the out-of-state competitors to steal back our customers. PriceWaterhouseCoopers themselves stated that forty minutes is the driving distance at which we can expect frequent visits from those who leave near casinos. But none of the Maryland casinos are within a forty minute drive from the out-of-state casinos. Are we really expecting Eastern Shore gamblers or Hagerstown slot-lovers to drive to one of the Maryland casinos? Those were some of the only areas with residents potentially making frequent visits to neighboring states casinos. But even still, why are we encouraging people to gamble more? I call B.S. on this argument, too.

None of MD's casinos will deter those residents who were already going out-of-state to gamble.

SPIN #3: WE NEED JOBS, AND WE CAN STEAL GAMBLERS FROM VIRGINIA AND DC: The last argument left in the toolbox of gambling fanatics like Senate President Mike Miller, is that we simply need jobs and money. Besides, we can get people from DC and Virginia to gamble in Maryland. That argument will work for two seconds, because knowing how idiotic policymakers are, it seems obvious that DC and Virginia will respond by opening their own casinos. What's really disingenuous about this argument, is that the casino industry is already working on getting casinos in DC and VA! If this potential scenario actually materializes, as I expect it will, then we will be left with fricking casinos all over Maryland, and almost all of the customers will be from Maryland. WTF. Folks, this is "race to the bottom" policymaking at its laziest. 

Time to stop the madness. 


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