Report touts casino benefit Top business group predicts windfall, but holds endorsement

New jobs, revenue cited

Greater Baltimore Committee's views get mixed reactions

February 21, 1997|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's leading business group is touting the economic benefits of bringing casino gambling to Maryland, but has stopped short of endorsing such a move.

The Greater Baltimore Committee released a study yesterday suggesting that 10 casinos in Maryland -- including five in the Baltimore area -- would generate $435 million in tax revenues and create more than 12,000 new jobs statewide.

"There is strong evidence it would have a major economic impact," said GBC Chairman Frank P. Bramble, chief executive of First Maryland Bancorp.

The report's release comes as the issue of casino-style gambling continues to swirl in the State House. GBC President Donald P. Hutchinson said the organization was releasing its study now in case the gambling issue gets serious consideration before the General Assembly adjourns in April.

The report was finished some time ago, sources said, and GBC officials have come under pressure from gambling advocates and others to make it public.

While Gov. Parris N. Glendening has taken a strong anti-gambling stance, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has said he wants to push legislation that would authorize slot machines at three Maryland race courses as a way of helping the state's racing industry.

But no bill has materialized, and many legislators believe the whole issue is effectively dead for the year.

Slots part of package

The GBC said that while it does not oppose slots at the race tracks, such a move should only be made as part of a larger expansion of gambling statewide to maximize economic development.

"Gaming at track sites would fit well into a more comprehensive, market-oriented gaming plan for Baltimore and Maryland," the GBC said in a statement.

Miller criticized the GBC report yesterday, saying the legalization of casino gambling beyond the tracks would not play well with the public.

"This proposal by the GBC, if it went to referendum, would be defeated overwhelmingly," Miller said. "People do not want massive casino gambling in Maryland."

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., who has trumpeted the possible economic benefit of casino-style gambling, said he had no comment on the GBC study.

Gerard E. Evans, a lobbyist for Harveys Casino Resorts, a Nevada-based casino company, said the GBC report would help keep the issue alive.

"You couldn't have a better shot in the arm at this point, a much-needed shot in the arm," Evans said.

The GBC report is not the first time Maryland business leaders have offered a favorable assessment of casino gambling. In the fall of 1995, a panel of five former Maryland Chamber of Commerce chairmen voted 4 to 1 to recommend the state authorize two or three casinos.

But Robert O. C. Worcester, head of the conservative group Maryland Business for Responsive Government, said yesterday that he believes casinos would be a "quick fix" that would do nothing to address underlying problems that have stymied job creation -- in his view, high state taxes and excessive regulation. His organization has not taken a formal position on the gambling issue.

Employment turnover

The GBC's economic analysis of casino gambling was prepared by Hunter Interests Inc., an Annapolis economics consulting firm that has studied gambling issues in several states.

The firm's report said that widespread casino gambling in the state would take some $535 million in revenue away from existing businesses, which would translate into the loss of more than 6,600 jobs.

Hutchinson said much of that job loss would come in restaurants and entertainment-related businesses. But, he added, it can be presumed that many of the people holding those jobs would go '' to work in the casino industry.

Even with those losses, a major move into casinos in Maryland would translate into a net gain of 12,300 jobs, the study concluded.

The Restaurant Association of Maryland, which has strongly opposed casino gambling, had no comment on the GBC report, a representative said.

The Hunter report also concluded that compulsive gambling would inevitably go up with the introduction of casinos here.

"It must be understood that problem gambling is a major public and private cost associated with casino development," the report stated.

More crime conceded

The GBC released a second study summarizing the effects that casinos have had on crime and other social problems in other states.

That report, prepared by Peter Reuter, a researcher at the University of Maryland College Park, concluded that it was hard to quantify the social problems, largely because casinos are a relatively new concept in the United States, outside of Nevada and Atlantic City.

Hutchinson conceded, though, that casinos would inevitably create more crime because of the large number of people who would visit the state to gamble.

Pub Date: 2/21/97

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