It’s a long way from Kansas to Maryland, but to Stephen Martino, the two states look remarkably alike.
When Martino took over as director of the Maryland State
Lottery Agency in 2010, he was charged with integrating a nascent gaming industry with the lottery organization. Martino had completed a similar task in Kansas, where the state actually owns the casinos and allows private companies to build and operate them on a long-term basis.
In Maryland, private companies own the casinos, but the state owns the slot machines (a system that Martino expects to change soon).
As the executive director of the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission beginning in 2005, Martino set up the bidding process (which shifted several times due to the changing economy), and oversaw the awarding of licenses. Even with the changes, experts recognized the transparency and the inherent fairness of the process.
In what is now known as the Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, Martino has extended the ethics he applied in Kansas to Maryland. While the agency has the responsibility to investigate and license prospective casino operators, Martino is pleased that he’s not tasked with choosing the winners.
“That’s the responsibility of the Video Lottery Facility Location Commission,” he says. “They choose the locations and the companies that will own the casinos by weighing economic impact and which will provide the most benefits for the state.”
The commission will be heavily involved in the debate that will award the recently approved sixth casino license in Prince George’s County. Martino says his agency will make sure all the applicants are fit for licensing.
While some say there is a “back room deal” for MGM Resorts to build a casino at the National Harbor multi-use facility on the Potomac River near Washington, D.C., Martino says his agency will handle all investigations impartially.
“No one has ever suggested to me that the ‘fix’ is in,” he says. “We’re going to do the background investigations with a blind eye to any of the personalities or their proposals.”
One of the things that came out of the referendum that approved a sixth casino (along with table games and 24-hour gaming for all the casinos) was the authorization to hire a director of gaming research.
“We’re going to have the ability to gauge the health of the gaming industry in the state,” he says. “Now that we’ve approved six casinos, we’ll be able to tell if the market could handle seven or eight licenses if the legislature wanted to consider that.”
Disappointment in the revenues of the first two casinos in Perryville and Ocean City seems to have been muted somewhat by the success of Maryland Live! in suburban Baltimore. And with a fourth license opening later this year in western Maryland, followed by a Horseshoe casino in downtown Baltimore, Martino believes the initial projections will be somewhat accurate.
For online gaming, Martino’s oversight of both casinos and the lottery will benefit both entities. But he says the regulations and taxation should remain at the state level, echoing a letter sent by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley to Senators Harry Reid and Jon Kyl, who were considering a federal bill legalizing online poker late last year that would have limited participation from lotteries.
“We think that the lottery and the casinos should be on the same level,” he says, “not one higher than the other. If something goes forward at the federal level, we’d like to see lotteries being treated as fairly as the casinos. In Maryland, we’d like to see the casinos operating any online casino gaming, since they’ve invested a considerable amount of money in our state. The lottery will have the ability to sell tickets and other traditional lottery activity online.”