Bill to put slot machines at BWI back before the legislature

Revenue would go to Transportation Trust Fund to pay for roads projects

February 04, 2013|By Candy Thomson, The Baltimore Sun

For the fifth year in a row, Del. Eric M. Bromwell has introduced a bill to authorize slot machines at BWI Marshall Airport

It's Bromwell's attempt to infuse the state treasury — specifically the Transportation Trust Fund — with gambling money, and the Baltimore County Democrat said he has no intention of giving up.

"I consider this to be the ultimate alternative to a gas tax," he said. "This is exactly how we pay for roads."

The bill would authorize up to 2,500 slot machines in the airport's main terminal beyond the security screening area. A fiscal review by the Department of Legislative Services has not been submitted, but an earlier report estimated airport slots might produce as much as $13.5 million annually for the state and $3 million for Anne Arundel County.

While the bill faces long odds in a General Assembly weary from last year's battle over a gambling expansion, it did attract more co-sponsors than before. The number has risen from 11 in 2009 to 40 this session.

It also comes at a time when the state needs to generate $700 million a year in new revenue to fund much-needed transportation projects.

A hearing has been set for March 5 before the House Ways and Means Committee.

A large number of BWI's annual 22 million passengers are from outside the region, Bromwell said, "and if they can afford to fly, why shouldn't they spend their money while they're here?"

By serving travelers from outside the region, slots at BWI likely wouldn't compete with the state's existing casinos, including Maryland Live Casino just a few miles from BWI in Anne Arundel County. A representative of The Cordish Cos., which owns the casino, said officials hadn't seen the bill and had no comment.

The machines could be placed in an arcade-like setting to shield children and those who don't wish to gamble, Bromwell said.

This wouldn't be the first time slot machines shared space with baggage carousels. When the airport opened in 1950 as Friendship Airport, it had nickel slot machines that paid out winnings in cigarettes, according to a less-than-flattering feature by Life magazine. The state banned slots in 1963.

The state Department of Transportation opposes the bill on the grounds that the airport wasn't built to be a gaming establishment and the addition of slot machines would require increased security and higher operating costs.

But Bromwell's bill clearly has struck a chord with some colleagues.

"I love this bill," said Prince George's County Democratic Del. Jolene Ivey. "Passengers often have time to kill and if they choose to spend their time on gaming, then the citizens of Maryland will benefit from their losses."

Said Baltimore County Del. Jon S. Cardin, also a Democrat, "Do we need the money? Yes. It's sound policy. The benefits are high and the costs are low."

That said, Ivey doesn't think the proposal, coming so soon after a bruising battle over gaming on the November ballot, will come up a winner this session.

"Everybody needs a break," she said.

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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