Maryland’s casino industry has made a high-profile addition to its roster of supporters after the Washington Redskins came out in favor of a ballot initiative to expand in-state gambling.
The NFL team—which is based in Northern Virginia but plays its home games at FedEx Field in Prince George’s County—is calling on its Maryland fans to vote yes on Question 7 when they head to the polls next month.
The hotly contested ballot measure would open Maryland’s five casinos to table games such as poker and roulette, add a sixth mega-casino—potentially in Prince George’s—and allow more than 1,000 new video lottery terminals statewide.
Question 7’s ultra-expensive advertising campaign—the Baltimore Sun pegs it at $25 million spent so far—has flooded airwaves for more than a month, frequently during NFL broadcasts.
Redskins officials cited the creation of more than 10,000 jobs and hundred of millions of dollars staying in state.
“As members of the Prince George’s County business community, we see it as our obligation to speak out in support of major economic development initiatives,” Dennis Greene, the Redskins’ president of business operations, said in a statement issued Tuesday. “We believe Question 7 represents a tremendous opportunity for Prince George’s County and all of Maryland to create thousands of good-paying jobs, increase funding for public schools, and help provide dollars for other critical state and local government services.
But will the Redskin faithful be enough to bring home a W on Question 7?
Maryland Juice cites a pair of recent polls showing that Question 7 is shaping up to be a losing bet:
- Gonzales Research poll: 45 percent for, 46 percent against
- Baltimore Sun poll – 38 percent for, 53 percent against
Question 7 supporters don’t have much wiggle room, as only 8 percent of voters describe themselves as undecided, according to The Sun poll, which queried 804 likely voters last week.
Nonetheless, the pollster who conducted The Sun poll said there’s still time for the outcome to tilt the other way.
"There's tremendous money being spent by both sides on political advertising, and the messages in those ads are provocative," Steve Raabe, president of the Annapolis-based research firm OpinionWorks, told The Sun. “Given that, this question could still move dramatically between now and election day."
The pro-gambling message has had its hardest sell in Montgomery County. The Sun poll found that 54 percent of Montgomery voters plan to vote no, compared to 34 percent yes. And last month, a line-up of top Democrats failed to persuade the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee to declare its support.
The www.voteforseven.com campaign—led by MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment—says the expansion would create 2,000 construction jobs, 4,000 permanent jobs at the sixth casino, 4,400 other permanent jobs associated with the development and 1,600 jobs from the introduction of table games. Upgrading Maryland casinos will also help recapture the $550 million annual that Marylanders gamble out of state.
The anti-expansion campaign warns voters to “get the facts” about claims that casino revenues will funnel directly into Maryland’s education budget.
Vote for Seven says the millions are “guaranteed” by independent audits required by the gambling-growth law, which lawmakers passed during a special legislative session this summer.
But the purported $200 million boost to the state’s education fund since casinos opened in 2010 has merely made room for increases to non-education expenditures, reported The Diamondback, the University of Maryland’s student newspaper.
“It is a lie to say that the existing slots program or the new casino that’s proposed in Question 7 will bring in new education dollars,” Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot told The Diamondback. “Any new money added to the trust fund is taken out of the education budget on the other side.”
Those concerns resonated among the more than 100 Democratic precinct representatives who gathered last month for a summit to decide the platform of the Montgomery County Democratic party.
Del. Eric Luedtke (D-Dist. 14), a teacher, vowed to keep the gambling windfall in the state’s education fund—but like the other party leaders who spoke in favor of Question 7, he stopped short of guarantees.
“A lot of stuff in the state budget is fungible—numbers can be moved around,” he said. “But here’s the reality: since the recession began, the only area of state funding that has not been cut by large numbers is education, and part of the reason for that is the legalization of gambling.”
The precinct reps voted to oppose the gambling initiative. The Central Committee nullified that decision, leaving the party platform to be no position on gambling.