Cruise ships' casinos allowed to operate on bay New law could bring more liners to city

April 14, 1993|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Staff Writer

Don't look just yet, but more cruise liners could be docking in Baltimore.

Eyeing potential economic development benefits, Maryland lawmakers reversed Monday a long-standing law that forced cruise ships to shut down their casinos while sailing the six hours up the Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore.

"This is a major, major hurdle in trying to attract more cruise lines to Baltimore," said Raymond C. Feldmann, spokesman for the Maryland Port Administration, which operates the state's marine terminals.

The MPA was joined in its lobbying efforts by downtown Baltimore business groups, including hotels and restaurant owners, who hope to benefit from increased tourism if more cruise ships sail into Baltimore.

The narrowly written law, which takes effect July 1, won't allow passengers to board in Baltimore just to gamble.

In fact, cruise ships must shut down their gaming operations once they sail past the Francis Scott Key Bridge into the harbor.

Lawmakers defeated a so-called "riverboat bill" that would have allowed ships to pick up passengers at dockside and cruise around the bay or its tributaries while they gambled.

"This was never a bill to bring more gambling to Maryland," said Mr. Feldmann. "It is an economic development bill."

The change won't have an immediate impact since cruise line companies set their schedules a year or more in advance, he said.

"We're looking at 1995 and beyond," Mr. Feldmann said, but he declined to predict the increase in the port's cruise business.

Despite the recession, the cruise industry has grown significantly. But the number of ships sailing from Baltimore, while growing to 17 in recent years, is still small.

Typically, cruise liners, especially those bound for the Caribbean, sail out of Florida, Puerto Rico and New York.

While welcomed, the change in Maryland law is not likely to be pivotal for most cruise lines, according to says Pamela Sederholm, a spokeswoman for International Council of Cruise Lines, a Washington-based group that represents most of the major lines.

"There's a lot of reasons ships will choose a port," Ms Sederholm said.

The six-hour journey from the mouth of the bay to Baltimore is still a major deterrent to cruise lines that can sail directly into other East Coast ports.

"Having this restriction lifted will enhance Baltimore's attractiveness as a port, but it wouldn't make or break a decision to come there," Ms. Sederholm said.

Still, others say the new law at least removes an existing barrier.

"It opens the way to come into that port either on on regular or occasional basis," said Fran Sevcik, a spokeswoman for Norwegian Cruise Lines of Miami, which currently sails to Bermuda from New York. "It really makes Baltimore much more attractive."

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