ANNAPOLIS – The Prince George’s County General Assembly delegation got a hard sell from House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, who appeared at their meeting to detail his opposition to legalizing slot machines.
Busch reminded the delegation, which is entirely made up of Democrats, that one of the three racetracks that would become home to the machines is in Prince George’s County, while another is only a block from the county line. He described the tremendous burden this would have on their communities.
Gov. Robert Ehrlich released a plan Thursday to put 10,500 slot machines in three existing race tracks and one under construction. Revenue from the machines would be used to balance the $1.7 billion state budget deficit. Busch came to the meeting with two charts, which he used to point out that the Laurel and Rosecroft racetracks are both in predominantly African-American communities, which mostly consist of low-to-moderate income families.
Plus, Ehrlich wants to locate the slot machines in areas of Maryland that he failed to win in November’s election, he said, questioning the lack of slots at Ocean Downs Racetrack on the Eastern Shore. The Timonium Racetrack, in Ehrlich’s hometown, also is not on the slots list.
“It’s a great inequity in the way they’re trying to implement their slots,” Busch said.
There is an immense burden that will be placed on the surrounding communities by the 3,000 slots at each of these racetracks, which will be open for 18 hours a day, all year, he said.
This burden includes road maintenance, providing additional parking, and supplying extra police and medical personnel.
Host communities will get a 3 percent local impact fee, roughly $24 million to $30 million, depending on how much the specific racetracks produce.
Busch and County Executive Jack Johnson, who also addressed the delegation, believe this fee is far below the amount of money needed to maintain such an operation.
“The local jurisdictions will have to pay the costs . . . of gambling 365 days a year,” said Johnson.
“The counties impacted the most should get more than 3 percent, especially when compared to the 15 to 20 percent the racetrack owners are proposed to get,” Jackson added.
Increasing the county fee could influence some delegates because that money could be used to take care of the material impact of slots, said Delegate Anthony Brown.
“However, what about the intangible costs, such as decreases in the property value of people’s homes or growing addictions to gambling? That impact won’t be immediately addressed with money,” Brown added, “I feel like they’re shoving slots down my throat.”
Delegate Melony Griffith worried that she has not any alternatives to slots funding, and added that without the machines, how would the $1.7 billion budget deficit be resolved?
Lawmakers are going to look into other revenue producing options, such as possible increases in the sales, corporate and income taxes, or a combination, Busch said.
“There will have to be a tax on gas, eventually. “Nobody wants to talk about taxes, but you’re going to have to,” he said.
Ehrlich’s slot proposal should not be the final answer to the budget deficit. It has not been appropriately thought out, and is being moved too quickly, Busch said. “Remember this is a 20-year plan,” he said.
Busch is referring to the slot licenses that will be sold to racetrack owners for $100 million and are good for 20 years.
“A number of us have signed the one-year moratorium on slots,” said Delegate Doyle Neimann, referring to a move in the House to stop slots legislation through the end of the year.
Busch supports the moratorium. “It is an appropriate posture to be in until you get more information,” he said.
During the governor’s State of the State address, he introduced a Baltimore family whose exceptional son was shot and killed in Baltimore. Busch used the same family as an example: “How do you put slots there and expect the crime rate to decrease? You don’t.”