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Table games soon allowed in Maryland?

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Revenue at the Casino at Ocean Downs is predicted to be slow during winter months, which could change if table games were allowed in Maryland. (Dec. 9, 2011) The odds that Maryland will attempt to ramp up its limited gambling operations are better than even, as the state’s two casinos continue to perform below state government’s projections.

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That shortfall in expected revenue could fuel a push by legislators to allow higher-stakes table games such as cards, dice and roulette.

According to numbers provided by the Maryland Lottery, the Casino at Ocean Downs on Route 589 near the intersection with Route 50 generated $3,102,332 in November, continuing a two-month dip from $3,829,354 in October. The casino has generated approximately $41.9 million since it opened in January.

Maryland’s other casino, Hollywood Casino in Perryville, which opened in September 2010, generated approximately $9.1 million in November, roughly unchanged from $9 million in October. The Perryville casino has 1,500 slot machines, while Ocean Downs has half that number.

“I think there is going to be a trend with a slowdown in activity during the colder winter months at Ocean Downs,” said Maryland Lottery Director Stephen Martino.

One possibility being discussed is that the General Assembly might move to place a referendum to legalize table games on the 2017 state ballot. Martino said he has done no revenue projections that include table games. The state already owes $114.1 million in general funds for fiscal 2017 because it overestimated revenues for the state casinos by 12 percent for the next three to five years, according to the MD. Department of Legislative Services.

During a meeting of the Economic Development Committee on Nov. 14, Sen. Jim Mathias (D- 38) said he planned to co-sponsor a bill to introduce table gaming to the state casinos. Following that announcement, Dr. Leonard Berger, owner of the Clarion Resort Fontainebleau Hotel, and Michael James, managing partner at the Carousel Resort Hotel & Condominiums, each said the city should consider adding gambling to their hotels if such a bill passed.

Mathias, however, said, the political will for the change within the municipal limits was unlikely and that such a move would completely change the face of Ocean City.

Ocean Pines Police Chief David Massey, who is also the law enforcement representative on the Local Development Council, which issues recommendations related to the casino, said a casino 10 miles from Ocean City is close enough, where table games could be easily controlled.

“I like the ‘family resort’ image that Ocean City has pursued over the years,” Massey said. “Should casino gambling be approved by the legislature, I would like to see it confined to the racetrack.”

Ocean City Police spokesman Mike Levy said there is no way to indicate what would happen if table games were allowed at Ocean Downs or within the Ocean City limits.

“Atlantic City is not a good model for comparison,” Levy said about looking to the New Jersey resort to predict any possible negative community impact from gambling

If gambling were allowed in the municipal limits of the city or higher-stakes table games allowed at Ocean Downs, Doris Moxley, addiction program director at Worcester County Health Department, said her department would be prepared, although she would not estimate the potential impact of table gaming.

“If someone were to rack up some debt, there are addictions counselors across the state to help with treatment, which is similar to alcoholism treatment,” Moxley said. “It usually takes some time for the gambling problems to appear. That has to do with the speed to which somebody commits financial resources. Alcohol and drug problems show up sooner because of arrests.”

A state “prevalence study” was designed by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to collect baseline data of gambling in Maryland before the 2008 passage of the slots law and the state requires that a follow-up survey be completed in five years.

The study indicated Maryland had a 3.4 percent prevalence for problem or pathological gambling. People in the 18- 29 age group run the highest risk of developing gambling problems. And since the study indicated, “most Marylanders travel more than 60 miles for their favorite type of gambling,” Ocean City’s college-age tourism base could be at risk to lose some serious money if table gaming came to its front door.

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