I don't suppose anyone on Gov. Martin O'Malley's 11-member work group on the possible expansion of gambling lives below the Federal Poverty Level — that is, $11,170 per year for an individual, $23,050 for a family of four. The panel, scheduled to meet for a second time Tuesday, is made up of members of the General Assembly and the governor's staff; the head of the group is a business executive and chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority. I doubt that any of them are concerned about having enough money to eat.
But that's OK. You don't have to be poor to appreciate poverty or to consider it in the context of adding more gambling temptations within the state of Maryland, and specifically in the city of Baltimore.
Which is why this 11-member "Workgroup to Consider Gaming Expansion" should consider something that, at this point, will seem radical and probably politically impossible: Moving the proposed Baltimore casino to National Harbor, about 50 miles to the city's south.
In 2008, Maryland voters approved the legalization of slot machines at five locations. Three casinos — at Perryville, Ocean Downs and Arundel Mills — already have opened. Another is slated for Rocky Gap in western Maryland, and Caesars Entertainment awaits approval to build and operate a 3,750-machine casino in Baltimore.
Given all this, it seems crazy to be talking about adding another casino to the picture.
But Rushern Baker, thePrince George's County executive, has been leading the charge to have the General Assembly approve a sixth casino at National Harbor, the impressive conference center and resort on the Potomac River. Depending on what the 11-member work group recommends by June 20, we could see a quick call for a special session in July to approve the proposal and send it to voters in November. The whole thing is real Rush-ern Job.
After a recent visit to National Harbor, I concluded that it would make a great location for a destination casino for high-rollers. But Marylanders approved just five locations in 2008, and National Harbor wasn't one of them. David Cordish, developer of Maryland Live, eagerly invested millions in the Arundel Mills location, confident that his casino would have no competition to the south. To add a sixth casino at Mr. Cordish's back would be unfair and foolish; it would take the state beyond the casino saturation point.
Back to poverty, the subject not even our allegedly liberal president likes to talk about:
Does anyone really believe that a casino in Baltimore is going to be good for the city? I'm talking about the social cost. Does it make sense — and, more importantly, is it moral — to build a casino in the city with the highest concentration of poverty in the state? Our mayor,Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, is gung ho for the city casino and is banking on the local share of the revenue it would produce to help fund school construction and a small property tax break. But how much more would those extra millions cost?
They built casinos in Atlantic City, N.J., starting in the 1970s, and today 25 percent of its residents still live below the FPL, compared to 9 percent statewide.
Baltimore has made a lot of progress after the decline of industry and a massive loss of population over the last five decades. But 21 percent of its residents live below the FPL, according to the Census Bureau, compared to 8.6 percent statewide.
Add all the families living at the brink of the FPL, and you have a lot of low-income people who would be enticed to waste what little spare cash they have in a casino — especially one within walking distance of their homes or bus lines. Could a Baltimore casino become anything but a depressing place full of the desperate poor?
We should have considered this before the vote in 2008, and some of us did. But, now that the reality is setting in and looking grim, we could change course. Instead of asking voters to expand gambling to a sixth casino, the legislature could keep it at five and ask us to switch the Baltimore location to National Harbor. The state could still designate part of the revenue from National Harbor for city schools. Mr. Cordish would have less competition to his north.
Will the city's poor still gamble? Yes. Some will go to Maryland Live, 11 miles away. Some might even make the schlep to National Harbor. But why make gambling any easier for the desperate by building a casino near some of the poorest neighborhoods in the state, especially when there's another choice?
Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesday, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the most of Midday on WYPR-FM. His email is email@example.com. Twitter: @danrodricks.