Poll finds strong slots support

More than half surveyed in Md. ready for table games

September 30, 2010|By John Wagner, Ann E. Marimow and Kyle Dropp, The Washington Post

With Maryland's first casino opening this week, strong majorities of voters say that they consider the state's embrace of slot-machine gambling a good thing, and that they think the revenue will bolster the state's ailing budget, a Washington Post poll has found.

Moreover, more than half of Maryland voters in the survey say they are ready for the state to take the next step: legalizing Las Vegas-style table games — such as blackjack, craps and roulette — at its new casinos.

"If you're legalizing one, they why not the other?" asked David Leeman, a Silver Spring resident and retired lawyer for the U.S. Energy Department, who recently visited a casino in Reno, Nev., while on vacation.

The bullish outlook on gambling comes in a poll conducted in the final days before Hollywood Casino Perryville opened in the northeastern corner of the state.

The casino, which features 1,500 slot machines, celebrates its official grand opening today.

The Perryville site, owned by Penn National Gaming, has been the one consistent bright spot in the state's fledgling program. Few gambling companies sought to run the casinos when Maryland solicited bids in early 2009, at the height of the economic downturn, and a number of setbacks have occurred since.

After constructions delays, a second smaller casino is scheduled to open in mid-December at Ocean Downs racetrack on the the Eastern Shore. It will initially have 750 machines.

But the fate of Maryland's two largest proposed facilities — in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore — remain uncertain. And slots boosters, including Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, have acknowledged that a promised $660 million in annual revenue for state education programs won't be realized nearly as soon as advertised.

Still, 57 percent of registered voters in Maryland say the arrival of slots casinos is a "good thing," while 32 percent say it is a "bad thing," the poll found.

According to the survey, 69 percent say the revenue from the facilities will eventually help the state budget at least somewhat, if not a great deal. Only 26 percent say the revenue will not help much or at all.

In the poll, as many Democrats as Republicans say having slots casinos is a good thing. And about seven in 10 in each group say bringing slots to Maryland will help the state's budget somewhat or a great deal.

According to the survey, which was conducted Sept. 22-26, a majority of Maryland voters are ready to push forward with table games. Surrounding states that welcomed slots long before Maryland — West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania — have moved in that direction.

Fifty-two percent of registered voters say they are in favor of adding games such as blackjack, craps and roulette to slots casinos, while 38 percent say they are opposed.

Nora Salgado, a federal government worker who lives in northern Montgomery County, said the addition of table games would "not bother me in the least," in part because she rejects the idea of "legislating morality."

Salgado, 50, a Democrat, said expanded gambling would bring economic development, benefiting hotels, restaurants and residents.

Others said the state should be more cautious.

Carol Macknis, a retired federal government worker who lives in College Park, said she has reservations about table games and making gambling more accessible. "The people who gamble are probably the ones who can afford it the least," said Macknis, 63, a Democrat.

Jeffrey Hooke, a Bethesda-based gambling analyst, said table games typically increase revenue at casinos by about 25 percent and expand the customer base. Adding table games would require another statewide referendum, which Hooke predicted is unlikely to occur before 2014.

The closest Maryland casinos are likely to get to table games for the next few years are electronic versions that the gambling industry classifies as slot machines.

The gambling floor in Perryville includes "electronic table games" — machines that simulate three-card poker, blackjack and roulette — without the cards, chips or wheels.

Anne Arundel voters will decide in November whether to allow a zoning law to stand that is needed for the Cordish Cos. to build a 4,750-machine casino in a free-standing building at Arundel Mills mall.

A state commission rejected last year a bid by a developer who is seeking to build a 3,750-machine slots casino in downtown Baltimore. The developer, whose financing plans were slow to materialize, has appealed the decision.

A total of 1,448 randomly selected adults in Maryland were interviewed, including 1,196 registered voters and 730 likely voters. Results among registered voters have a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points; the error margin is 4 points for likely voters.

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