Slots = tax relief

editorials

Our view: Baltimore's share of gaming revenue should help taxpayers

April 12, 2009

The ka-ching of slots had only one appeal to Mayor Sheila Dixon - the possibility of lowering Baltimore's chart-topping property tax rate. The city took another step toward realizing the mayor's goal by concluding a profit-sharing lease agreement with the group that has proposed building a slots casino in south Baltimore. City residents sure could use a break on their property taxes; the city's rate is the highest in the state. But any cut in the rate will depend on the success of slots. And competition for area gamblers may be stiff.

That's because Baltimore developer David S. Cordish has bid to build a casino and entertainment complex at Arundel Mills mall, right off the Baltimore Washington Parkway with easy access for residents of Howard and Prince George's counties, and Washingtonians. Plus, Mr. Cordish is a showman - his Indiana Live! casino is Vegas-lite. The Arundel slots parlor does require a change in county zoning laws, and that is not a given.

Baltimore Entertainment Group, led by Michael Moldenhauer, a Toronto-based developer with no previous casino experience, has proposed a slots parlor for city-owned, waterfront land south of M&T Bank Stadium. The complex has to distinguish itself as a go-to destination for tourists and gamblers to generate the traffic that will bring the city its expected share of revenue, as much as $25.4 million annually after five years, and the promise of tax relief.

At the casino's hoped-for opening in 2011, the city would receive $20.8 million under the deal with Baltimore Entertainment Group. That would finance a 5-cent tax cut, according to city officials, but City Hall wouldn't be able to continue the tax relief without as high annual gambling revenues - and to achieve those revenues, the casino investors will have to increase the number of city slots significantly above the 500 promised in their initial bid. That's the catch.

These numbers may sound like pie-in-the-sky, but city officials, including Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, have put the city in a position to recoup a sizable portion of gambling revenue to provide tax relief. But that will depend on the number of slots and the traffic at the casino. The city Board of Estimates should approve the deal so the project can move forward. Getting a jump on a casino at Arundel Mills would be to the city's advantage.

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