On Friday, Governor O'Malley proposed a referendum on slots that would allow up to 15,000 machines in five Maryland locations. The legislation, which appears likely to pass during the special session calls for a referendum in November 2008. The referendum would put slots at five locations:
- Allegheny County, on state property near the Rocky Gap resort;
- Anne Arundel County, within two miles of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway;
- Baltimore City at a non-residential area within a half mile of Interstate 95 and Md 295;
- Cecil County within two miles of Interstate 95; and
- Worcester County within a mile of US 50 and MD 589.
Now this last one caught my eye; it's not that far from where I live. Ocean Downs Raceway is in that area.
Since Governor Ehrlich first proposed slots in 2002, Ocean Downs has been one of the locations considered. As the various proposals have come and gone, Ocean Downs has been included and then excluded. Now it's in again.
There is concern in Worcester County that having a large slots venue in the county will increase congestion, increase crime and generally mess things up. In Ocean City, in particular, opposition has been vehement, largely on the grounds that it would change the 'family' nature of the resort and drain vacation dollars that would otherwise be spent in the resort.
I see things differently.
Worcester county employment is heavily oriented toward summer resort activities, agriculture and construction. The unemployment rate annually fluctuates between about three percent in the summer to well over ten percent in the winter. The slots would provide a sigificant number of year-round jobs that would pay a decent wage.
The decent wage is important; according to the Maryland Statistical Handbook, Worcester County ranks LAST in the state in average wage per job. The average wage here is only 58% of the statewide average.
Ocean City is a fine summer resort, but they have been complaining for several years that business there is stagnating. Many people attribute this stagnation to the increased cost of vacationing there, particularly lodging costs which have inflated along with real estate prices. The city and the county have recently decided to increase the room tax to attract more visitors (some sharp minds at work there).
The establishment of a slots venue a couple miles away from Ocean City will significantly increase the number of visitors year-round, not just in the crowded summer months. What Ocean City loses in money going to slots will be more than made up by the overall increase in visitors, particularly in the winter months when, on most days, you could shoot a cannon down the boardwalk and not worry about hitting someone.
I'm sure the good people of Worcester County will vote against slots in the referendum next year, but I'm thinking that the current 70+% approval rating for slots in the state as a whole will lead to a win for the referendum. In the meantime, get ready for lots of campaigning both ways. It will be an interesting year.