ANNAPOLIS – How would casino gambling affect Maryland?
With only their zeal in common, lobbyists, industry magnates and clergy packed a House Joint Hearing Friday to tackle that question.
The hearing, which covered all gambling bills introduced this session, followed Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s recent pledge to veto all bills to expand legalized gambling until the issue can be studied comprehensively.
But that didn’t stop groups from pushing their positions and distributing reports. And reports.
The Maryland Horse Coalition — an 11-member group representing different areas of Maryland’s Horse industry — presented an estimated 1,500-page study on casinos’ negative impact on horse industries in other states.
Joe DeFrancis, owner of Pimlico and Laurel race courses and a coalition member, said attending the hearing was important to his group because Glendening’s decision was not final.
“The governor did not say the issue is dead forvever,” DeFrancis said. “He said it was dead for this year.”
DeFrancis called the effect of casinos on the horse industry “devastating.”
“Virtually all the jobs created and the tax revenue Maryland would see, would not be new, but rather would be taken from other businesses, especially our industry,” DeFrancis said. “Casino gambling doesn’t stimulate people to take money out of their bank accounts and spend what they would not have spent.
“It encourages them to spend money on one industry at the expense of another.”
Joseph Schwartz, also of the horse coalition, estimated that the $1.2 billion-a-year horse industry could face a 30 percent decline in business.
“The people I represent are not the Johnny-come-lately’s,” he said. “They have been here, and they are the ones who will lose.”
But proponents of casino gambling argued the casino and horse industries could work together.
Ira Cooke, lobbyist for the Maryland Gaming Association, said the two industries should not be on opposing sides.
“A compromise can be derived and is being derived in several states in the nation,” Cooke said. “It should not be mutually exclusive, rather it should be synergistic in that it will increase tourism.”
Cooke used the example of Harbor Place in Baltimore, to which resaurant owners in Littly Italy worried they would lose business.
“I would submit to you if you try to go to Little Italy tonight without a reservation … you’ll be out of luck,” he said.
Michael Canning, who represents Harrah’s Casinos, said, “Maryland should tap into an industry that is luring citizens to spend money in other states.” He estimated Marylanders spend about $300 million a year in Atlantic City.
Ways and Means Chairwoman Shiela Hixson, D-Montgomery, has sponsored legislation to expand gambling, including a bill permiting riverboat gambling on any navigable body of water — except for Worcester County waters — and a bill creating a commission to oversee gambling.
“I see these concepts as tools for competition with other states and economic enhancement and development,” she said. “They will create jobs, increase revenues for needed state programs and promote economic stability.”
But some people at the hearing said they do not want any forms of gambling in Maryland.
Irene Pierce, member of the United Methodists Against Casino Gambling, said she finds gambling “disruptive to good government.”
“Gambling is morally wrong, it’s socially wrong and the less we have the better,” she said. Friday’s hearing was held before the House Ways and Means and Judiciary committees. -30-