Maryland gambling expansion comes at West Virginia's expense

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Local,Maryland,Matt Connolly

With the passage of gambling expansion in Maryland and a new casino on the horizon, one county's loss is another's gain.

West Virginia's Jefferson County, home of the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, is facing a drop in its millions of dollars of yearly gaming revenue as more Maryland gamblers are likely to stay in state thanks to Question 7. The measure, which voters approved 52 percent to 48 percent, allows for a new casino in Prince George's County along with table games and 24-hour operation at existing casinos statewide.

"We get a lot of customers from the state of Maryland," said Patsy Noland, president of the Jefferson County Commission. "Our county will see some decline in revenue from the gaming industry -- I just hope it's not a lot."

In fiscal year 2012, Jefferson County received $9.8 million from gaming, of which $4.8 million was mandated by state law to go to the schools, Noland said. The money not used for schools goes toward things like government operations, nonprofit organizations and emergency services.

Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races is owned by Penn National Gaming, which poured more then $41.5 million into the fight against Question 7. It's not hard to see why -- the casino made nearly $570 million in fiscal year 2012, thanks in large part to the many Marylanders who cross the border to gamble there.

Prince George's County's new casino, which cannot open until 2016, is expected to be an MGM Resorts-owned $800 million luxury facility at National Harbor, though bidding has not yet begun. Prince George's estimates that it would take in $41.4 million a year in tax revenue from a new casino, including property taxes, income taxes and other taxes on gambling, hotel rooms and other amusements.

"Even before the casino comes, additional money will be coming in through the state that will come back to our schools," said Scott Peterson, a spokesman for Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker, who noted that table games and 24-hour operation will lead to almost immediate increases in gaming revenue.

Just how much money, though, is a debate that raged throughout the Question 7 campaign. While state budget analysts have said that money put in the state's Education Trust Fund will increase by $174.5 million by fiscal 2017 thanks to gambling profits, they also project that the state will reduce the amount of money spent on education from the state's general fund.

"The casinos do not on a net basis increase the amount of education funding," said Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, a gambling opponent. "It simply allows the legislature to swap education dollars for the casino dollars."

Whether or not education spending rises, there's one place the state's larger gambling revenue won't go -- Jefferson County. Noland said that hers and other agencies are trying to figure out new ways to draw tourists.

"Everybody's going to be working on a marketing strategy," she said. "Jefferson County contributes over $700 million to West Virginia's tourism industry, and I'm sure we will have to have those discussions about how we can generate more."

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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