With Republicans like these, who needs Democrats?

Two big names in the Md. GOP play the Democrats' game on gambling

October 23, 2012|Marta H. Mossburg

Republicans in Maryland often wonder why they lose. The letter sent last week by Michael Steele and Audrey Scott to Maryland Republicans urging them to vote for expanded gambling is a perfect example of how the party solidifies its minority status.

In it, the former Republican National Committee chairman and lieutenant governor and a former Maryland GOP chairwoman rally the troops for crony capitalism as if they were wearing Halloween masks of Senate President Mike Miller and Gov. Martin O'Malley.

They repeat the Democratic Party lie that a new casino at National Harbor in Prince George's County will "provide hundreds of millions in new revenue for education each year, without raising taxes."

Gambling revenue will replace money going to public schools from other sources, but nowhere does the law say public schools will get millions in "new revenue."

Dismissing reality, they also say that Question 7 will "steer millions of dollars in revenue and hundreds of jobs into Western Maryland [via the gaming facility at Rocky Gap] and the Eastern Shore [via gaming facilities at Ocean Downs and Perryville]." They know that the Maryland Live casino in Anne Arundel, which opened in June, is siphoning revenue from Hollywood Casino Perryville. Revenue is down about 35 percent year over year there. (Revenue at Ocean Downs is up about 5 percent from a year ago.) And Penn National Gaming, Hollywood's owner and the money behind the opposition to Question 7, recently asked the state to remove some slot machines so that the place doesn't look empty. So how is adding another casino to increase jobs and money to those locations a sure thing, even with table games?

Besides, if Maryland taxpayers see any money from Rocky Gap, it will be a miracle. The new owner of the long-troubled facility, Evitts Resort LLC, significantly scaled back its original plans because it said it could not get financing. Without slots, the formerly state-owned resort hemorrhaged millions of taxpayer dollars each year. Why people will travel there to gamble when so many other options closer to home exist is the elephant in the room.

Laughably, Mr. Steele and Ms. Scott also note, "Partisan politics should not interfere with economic development and the creation of jobs."

Mr. Steele and Ms. Scott's letter was sent on behalf of the pro-Question 7 organization For Maryland Jobs & Schools. A spokeswoman for the group could not immediately say whether the pair was paid for their effort. She said she would check their status with the campaign but had not responded by the deadline for this column. Mr. Steele and Ms. Scott did not return phone calls or emails requesting comment.

Mr. Steele and Ms. Scott say that their main motivation is to do gambling "right" and capture as much money for the state as possible. But Question 7 is really about doing MGM Resorts International right, not Maryland taxpayers.

As mentioned above, the promise of extra money for schools is false and estimates for new jobs and revenue are utopian. Instead of expanding the pie, a casino at National Harbor would likely shift money around to a casino operator who didn't even bid on a location in 2007, instead of create more of it, as the story of Perryville's declining revenue shows. The takeaway from that should be if you have enough money, Maryland will bend the rules for you.

For Mr. Steele and Ms. Scott to add to Maryland's reputation as a place that hands out favors to the politically connected makes a joke of their party label. With Republicans like these, who needs Democrats?

Marta H. Mossburg is a senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute and a fellow at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Her column appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun. Her email is marta@martamossburg.com.

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