Extra gambling money doesn't mean more money for schools

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Local,Maryland,Ben Giles

School spending in Maryland won't increase just because more money is expected to flow into its Education Trust Fund through an expansion of gambling, according to tax experts.

Lobbying groups on both sides of the issue are running ads focusing on education spending.

Anti-gambling advertisements are bashing plans to allow a Prince George's County casino, table games such blackjack and roulette and 24-hour casino operations -- all measures requiring the approval of voters statewide on ballots in November.

The ad, paid for by the committee Get the Facts - Vote No On 7, says a loophole allows the state to avoid increasing spending on education.

"There's actually no obligation to use revenues in Maryland's classrooms," according to the committee's website.

Pro-gambling ads tout the gambling plan's ability to generate $199 million in new revenue for the Education Trust Fund.

Neil Bergsman, director of the Maryland Budget & Tax Policy Institute, says the Get the Facts ad is not entirely true -- but what is accurate is that Maryland's spending on education won't be affected by an increase in gambling revenues.

Money put in the Education Trust Fund will increase $174.5 million from gambling profits by fiscal 2017, according to state budget analysts. But at the same time, they project the state to reduce the amount of money from the general fund used on education -- meaning that money can be used elsewhere.

"I wouldn't call it a loophole; I would call it a shell game," Bergsman said. "The casino money that goes to schools doesn't add to the amount of funding for state schools, it just relieves the need for tax dollars to be used for education aid."

A spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O'Malley said no one in the administration has ever suggested that increasing education funding from gambling would dictate how much the state spends on schools.

"The education costs grow every year for inflation, [a state law that requires increases in per-pupil spending] ... and also the geographic cost of education index," said spokeswoman Raquel Guillory. "[Gambling] funds will be used to make sure we continue to meet those every year to keep pace with inflation and growing costs."

MGM Resorts International, which reached an agreement this summer with developers at National Harbor to build a resort casino should their site be chosen, has given $2.4 million to a pro-casino campaign committee, For Maryland Jobs and Schools.

Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns Hollywood Casino Perryville and Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia, as well as another potential Prince George's casino site, Rosecroft Raceway, has given $5.5 million to the Vote No On 7 committee.

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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