Connecticut's lesson for Maryland on casino gambling

October 25, 2012

Maryland voters should understand what they are getting with casinos

Having recently relocated to Baltimore from Connecticut where I lived for 20 years within a 15-mile radius of the country's two largest casinos, I hope to give some insight into what Maryland can expect if Question 7 passes.

Both the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Casino, which is owned by MGM Grand, are located in southeastern Connecticut. Prior to their arrival, the region was struggling to maintain a vibrant economic base. The casinos were constructed within four years of each other in the early 1990s and grew substantially over the course of the decade.

In the beginning, they brought good paying construction jobs to the area and subsequently great employment, hiring thousands from the region and beyond. In addition to an economic boost, they were good community partners, adding world-class entertainment to our community and funding local programs. Twenty-five percent of slot revenues went to state government, and those towns impacted most by their proximity to the casinos received a larger portion of the proceeds. And they needed it because with the casinos came a host of other issues.

Communities were overwhelmed with traffic, crime and over-use of their human and natural resources. Roads, schools, water, sewer, safety and housing were all in need of expansion at the towns' expense. It took years to work through inherent problems. Eventually, it seemed to be a win-win situation.

Fast-forward 20 years, and in that time gaming has expanded across the country. Growth occurred because so many states saw it as a way to increase revenue at a time when budgets were getting tighter. Gaming sprouted in states all around Connecticut because they wanted their casino dollars to stay in their states. Sound familiar? Over the last many years, thousands have being laid off from their Connecticut casino jobs because of the down economy and competition. Communities there are once again hurting.

The truth is that even with extra casino funds, the state couldn't manage its money. And as schools eventually needed more funds, roads fell into disrepair and taxes were on the rise, people always asked, "Where does all the casino money go?"

Now, I see so many Maryland politicians jumping on the bandwagon in support of Question 7 and all the money it will bring to the state. Meanwhile, the Maryland Lottery wants to do its business on-line to increase its share of revenue. It seems to me the last thing this state needs are more gaming venues to dilute the potential of those already approved.

I will vote against Question 7 in the hopes that our politicians will pause and decide we don't need more casinos in Maryland. Rather, we need a comprehensive look at how expanding the offerings at our existing and approved casinos can add to the breadth of entertainment options Marylanders and visitors can enjoy.

There can be a time and place for well-conceived casinos in Maryland. I can see a Baltimore casino fitting with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's desire to attract 10,000 new families to the area by creating more jobs downtown. I can see the right venue helping to fill the need for a new, state of the art arena and, a casino is a natural fit for a bustling convention destination.

Most importantly, before we accept a full-fledged casino in Baltimore in particular, we need real and fair property tax reform for residents and a local government willing to make doing business in Baltimore attractive to more than just casino owners.

Ilaina L. Clement, Baltimore

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