AMONG BALTIMORE hoteliers, restaurateurs and leaders of major tourist attractions, two words have become the subject of endless debate and considerable anxiety: casino gambling.
As the General Assembly prepares to decide whether to legalize casino gambling, tourism industry leaders say, few have a bigger stake than the hotels, attractions and restaurants. Would casino gambling prove an economic boon, as lobbyists promise, or divert money from other attractions?
Would casino gambling help or hurt the city's image as a tourism spot widely viewed as a pioneer in transforming a moribund downtown area into a destination?
L Executive vice president, Restaurant Association of Maryland
Casino gambling would be bad for our industry and bad for the entire state's economy. We've been in contact with state restaurant associations all across the country where some form of casino gambling is introduced, and not only does business fall off, but people are laid off and restaurants close.
It's not just the restaurant industry that is hurt. Casinos just take existing money from others. The biggest threat comes from the cannibalization of existing businesses. The gambling casinos talk about all of the jobs they would create, but the studies show there is one job lost in the existing community for every job gained in the casinos.
There is no doubt there is an increase in crime with casinos. You have to have more police, more courts to try people, more jails to put them in. We tried to develop an image for Baltimore as a family destination, a well-priced family kind of place to be. Casino gambling would certainly change the nature of the town.
General manager, Stouffer Renaissance Harborplace Hotel
I think it would be a mistake to legalize casino gambling. My biggest concern about casino gambling is that we're introducing the next social ill in the city.
It has been broadly reported that there are many thousands of drug addicts that need $100 a day to supply their habits. This drains a city due to the many crime-related problems and challenges to agencies and organizations it presents.
Is Baltimore or the state of Maryland prepared to add one more social temptation to its state and its city?
Baltimore's a great destination that cities all over the country have come to admire, emulate and in fact try to replicate. Our Inner Harbor is a fabulous asset that has been attracting many family-oriented travelers for over 15 years. Why do we want to toy with our success? What we have today could be tainted tomorrow if casino gaming comes. Why would we want to be anything like Atlantic City?
President, the Columbus Center
Is casino gambling inevitable? If Maryland doesn't pass it and it ,, goes in other states, is this the kind of thing that will siphon economic activity from the state of Maryland? Then I think the question becomes, under what terms to do we take it in?
In the city of Baltimore, I don't think it should be in the Inner Harbor. I see literally several billion dollars invested into the Inner Harbor by the state, the city, the private sector. I think to put gambling here could jeopardize the investments we made. In a gambling casino built around a hotel, people gamble in the hotel, they eat in the hotel, they sleep in the hotel. They never leave the hotel.
I think the Inner Harbor East [where Primadonna Resorts of Las Vegas proposes building a major casino and hotel] is a very different matter. The Inner Harbor East is in effect a piece of property which has been bought, but in effect there are no assets really located there. It's very similar to where the Inner Harbor was 20 years ago.
There's a social compact, and this Inner Harbor has evolved very carefully with the public being involved. To suddenly come in now and change the rules mitigates against casino gambling coming to the Inner Harbor, when there is a readily available and less pre-planned spot five or six blocks away
Inner Harbor East].
Paul A. Hanle
Executive director, Maryland Science Center
As a science education professional, I think it would be really unfortunate if resources, time and attention of families were directed to gambling when I would hope that they would spend time with things of more value, like science centers. There are significant questions being raised now at a national level about the negative impact of gambling on our culture -- compulsive gambling, crime, the breakdown of family ties and the diversion of people's attention from more wholesome things.
With limited time and money in the economy, people will spend less on other things. We feel that the science centers, zoos, aquariums are really important in keeping up the quality of life, and we have a lot that we're offering.