Seen those ubiquitous TV ads about Question 7, and building a new casino in Maryland? Specifically, the ones that say it’s a bad idea and there’s no guarantee the money will go to education?
Amid an escalating multi-million dollar ad war, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) on Wednesday upped the ante, using the bully pulpit of his office to stage a counter assault, questioning the integrity of opponents’ campaign.
At a news conference on the steps of the Maryland State House, O’Malley called No on Question 7 ads that point out that there is no guarantee that overall spending on education in Maryland will necessarily increase as a result of casino money earmarked for schools “total crap, hogwash, a bunch of West Virginia casino hooey.”
O’Malley’s last reference was a nod to Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns two properties in Maryland that could benefit from passage of the measure: a slots venue in Cecil County, which could draw more patrons with table games; and a racetrack in Prince George’s, where Penn could bid to build a full-fledged casino.
But analysts say Penn’s spending of $18 million and counting against the measure suggests the company has calculated it is more important to protect its market share for Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races, the large casino it operates west of Washington in West Virginia, and that has been a favorite of Maryland gamblers, particularly those from Montgomery County.
Kevin McLaughlin, spokesman for Get the Facts — Vote No on 7, said the ads, “are not our assertions. They are independent media fact checks that have found the proponent’s promises of thousands of jobs and increased education funding just aren’t true.”
The ballot-issue committee supported this year by MGM Resorts, the gambling behemoth that has spent $11.4 million in favor and is angling to build a new casino in Prince George’s, has highlighted in its TV ads a promise of new construction and permanent casino jobs, drawing figures in some cases from studies commissioned by interests that favor passage of the plan.
The “world-class resort casino” will also produce “hundreds of millions for Maryland schools,” according to the ads. That claim, while vague, could prove true over time and is backed up by the estimates of state legislative analysts.
But the revenue estimated in 2007, when Maryland launched its slots program, has been slow to materialize. For this fiscal year, analysts are expecting less than half of the revenue projected.
Since 2010, casino gambling has contributed a combined $471 million to the state’s Education Trust Fund. The state had initially expected to collect about $600 million annually, by now.
Nothing in Maryland law prohibits future lawmakers from using a windfall from casinos to reduce outlays to education from other sources.
But O’Malley said his administration’s record of increasing education spending by about 45 percent since 2006 shows the state has a proven record of working to spend more on classrooms.
“It’s a ludicrous supposition” that the state would use casino revenue to shirk its responsibilities to increase education funding, O’Malley said.
He criticized Penn Chief Executive Peter Carlino by name for the line of attack.
“I would have expected more from Mr. Carlino, but I guess there’s enough money at stake that he has to run these falsehoods,” O’Malley said. “I mean, what’s the guarantee that a house won’t fall on Mr. Carlino tomorrow?”
A call to a spokeswoman for Penn was returned by McLaughlin.
O’Malley, however, did not stop his attack:
“I think it’s sad and pathetic that Penn would be running false ads that would say we are not investing more in education, nothing could be further from the truth and I think Marylanders are figuring out every day that the huge amount -- the buckets and buckets — of money that Penn is spending to protect their West Virginia casino interests are things that they are not doing with the best interest of Maryland in mind ... they just don’t want Maryland gaming to be able to compete with the huge amount of dollars they take out of Maryland and send to West Virginia.”