Baltimore wants full-blown casinos
A task force appointed by Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon issued a report last month promoting full-scale casinos as one of the best ways to reduce the city’s property tax, which is the highest in the state.
The study calls for full-blown casinos-tables and slots, not the slot-only casinos being promoted by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, who is Baltimore’s former mayor-with revenue dedicated to lowering the property tax.
Dixon convened a group of 26 business and civic community leaders to study ways to reduce the property tax. In its report, the panel said casinos could knock 17 cents off the property tax rate as well as bringing in additional tourists, presumably to the city’s Inner Harbor area.
Jody Landers III, executive vice president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and co-chairman of the task force, defended the proposal for full-scale casino gaming in an interview with the Associated Press. “We really felt in the overall scheme of things from the city’s perspective that full casino gambling would be much better for the city,” he said. “The city needs to have a strategy, and part of that strategy is to apply part of the gains that would come from either casino gambling or slots to meaningful property tax reduction.”
Some state officials disagree. A spokeswoman for state Comptroller Peter Franchot, who has been a persistent opponent of any legalization of slots in Maryland, gave the standard anti-gaming argument concerning the social costs of gambling in a statement.
“Slots and casinos are the wrong direction for Baltimore, and the wrong direction for Maryland,” the spokeswoman said. “Any revenue that may be generated by this predatory industry will be more than offset by increases in crime, addiction and the destruction of entire communities.”
Landers added that full casino gambling is actually a better idea than the slot casinos that will be voted upon in the November general election. “Full casino gambling draws on a population that has a wider spectrum of income levels,” he said. “Slots tend to draw more low- to moderate-income levels.”
Dixon said she will get feedback from the public on the proposal before examining all of Baltimore’s options.
Palazzo Opens Doors
A few delays pushed back the debut, but Las Vegas Sands Corp. officials celebrated a soft opening of the $1.8 billion Palazzo casino on December 31.
The timing couldn’t have been better. The next morning, a float depicting the property was featured in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California.
The casino and lobby areas were opened, but the more than 3,000 hotel rooms remain offline. They were not made entirely available until the official grand opening celebration, which was held on January 17, when the Shoppes at Palazzo opened.
The combined Venetian and Palazzo complex represents the world’s largest integrated destination resort, with 7,128 hotel rooms and 2.3 million square feet of meeting, convention and exhibition space.
Missouri could scrap $500 loss limit
If legislators won’t repeal the $500 loss limit at Missouri casinos, the casino industry wants voters to decide if they want the measure, which was enacted in the 1990s to save compulsive gamblers from themselves.
Casino interests have filed the papers for a statewide referendum on the limit, which critics say has driven high rollers from the state and invaded every gambler’s privacy by tracking their play.
According to the Missouri Gaming Commission, the limit hasn’t effectively curbed gambling by problem players. The commission estimates that only 2 percent of gamblers hit the limit (a $500 buy every two hours), and adds that a determined gambler can easily get around the restrictions.
The issue is a critical one right now in the Show Me State, because competition is springing up all around. Next door in Kansas, new casino resorts without wagering limits are being built, a new tribal casino will open this month, and the Woodlands racetrack is expected to add 1,000 slot machines this year.
Besides Kansas, an effort is under way to build a new casino in Sugar Creek just off Missouri 291.
But how many casino operations can the region sustain? Gaming Commission Director Gene McNary refuses to rule out more expansion in the state.
“It is not our job to protect anybody,” said McNary in a recent interview. “These are big boys and they’re in competition. Our job is to regulate and make sure there’s integrity in the games and that the various casino companies are economically viable. After that it’s the marketplace.
“If we can create a marketplace situation that is better for the state of Missouri than we currently have, then I think that’s the direction to go.”
Emerald quits fight for Illinois casino license
The way was cleared to auction Illinois’ 10th gaming license last month when Emerald Casino Incorporated “decided to cease further
litigation activities” to keep the long-dormant license. The Illinois Gaming Board revoked it in 2005, citing corporate mob ties and lies to agents.
The board expects to hire an investment banker by the end of February to help sell the license. Any Illinois community, teamed with a casino developer, would be eligible to bid on the state’s last available riverboat license. That would include Rosemont, the Chicago suburb near O’Hare International Airport where Emerald started building a casino garage, since demolished.
Chicago officials are eager for one of three or four new casino licenses under consideration in the Illinois legislature. Mayor Richard Daley doesn’t want the limited Emerald license, however.