Luck won't lure visitors Economic chief says strong marketing surer bet than casinos

October 23, 1995|By Gary Gately | Gary Gately,SUN STAFF

Maryland's economic development chief attacked casino gambling yesterday as an "illusory quick fix" that would drain business from the tourism industry without significantly boosting the economy or the number of jobs.

Speaking at the 15th annual Governor's Tourism Industry Conference in Edgewood, James T. Brady, secretary of Business and Economic Development, said painstaking research casts serious doubt on casino-backers' claims.

"I find it very difficult, based on what I've seen so far, to come to the conclusion that this is the economic bonanza that some people would have you believe," Mr. Brady told 250 members of the tourism industry.

Rather than betting on casino gambling to improve the economy, he said, the state should focus on what he called surer bets. Among them, he said: building tourism through aggressive marketing, ensuring a well-trained work force, and striving to lure and keep major corporations.

"To make casino gambling a central part of an economic development strategy would make it a fatally flawed strategy," said Mr. Brady, whose remarks drew enthusiastic applause. "It's an illusory quick fix."

Mr. Brady also echoed anxieties expressed by some Baltimore hoteliers, restaurateurs and leaders of tourist attractions, who suggest casino gambling would take business and jobs from them. "I think there's a real potential of draining the business from what I consider to be these more substantial attractions," he said.

While saying he spoke as the state's economic development chief, not formally expressing the position of the administration of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Mr. Brady added that his views are "in sync" with the governor's.

Dianna D. Rosborough, the governor's press secretary, said yesterday that Mr. Glendening would await a joint legislative task force's study of casino gambling's impact, due this year, before taking a formal stand. But she said the governor "has serious reservations regarding the idea that gaming would be good for Maryland."

Beyond the economic development arguments, Mr. Brady said he opposes legalized gaming because it would send the wrong message, one counter to "fundamental values" such as hard work and perseverance.

"What we don't have to do is rely on the luck of the draw, the roll of the dice, good luck," he said. "That is not the message that I believe that we're trying to get out to our young people."

Mr. Brady's remarks drew criticism yesterday from Ira C. Cooke, lobbyist for Ameristar Corp., a Jackpot, Nev., casino company. Mr. Cooke suggested the state should view gambling as part of a broader strategy to bolster the economy and replace jobs lost with the decline of the defense and manufacturing industries.

"As people criticize gaming, they have not come up with any alternatives to replace the jobs that Maryland is already losing," Mr. Cooke said. "The economic development people ought to be looking at an expansion of the tourism and service economy, which gaming clearly would be."

Maryland risks losing potential visitors to other states offering gambling, he predicted, noting that Delaware plans to begin operating more than 1,000 slot machines at race tracks.

At the three-day tourism conference, which opened yesterday, Mr. Brady also said the state is embarking on an aggressive marketing campaign to better compete with neighboring states.

The state just increased funding for tourism marketing by $3 million, a huge increase over the $700,000 that had been allotted for marketing. The money is to go toward marketing Maryland, with a campaign built around a slogan the state is creating.

"The competition for tourist dollars is ferocious these days," Mr. Brady said. "There has to be a very special spotlight put on tourism if we're going to achieve from an economic development standpoint what we want to achieve."

Last year, state officials say, about 19 million tourists pumped $5.7 billion into the economy, generated about $345 million in tax revenue and accounted for more than 71,000 jobs.

But largely as a result of a long-standing lack of money and marketing, Maryland has lagged behind the national average in both the length of visitors' stays and the amount they spend.

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