Most employees — from cashiers and craps dealers to bartenders and those who bus tables — have to be licensed to work at Maryland casinos, which are expanding dramatically and adding thousands of jobs across the state. Some casino states, including West Virginia and Ohio, impose total bans on employing people convicted of certain crimes. Delaware imposes a 10-year ban.
The new approach in Maryland won approval in the House of Delegates on Thursday, with a 94 to 40 vote. The Senate passed a similar bill by unanimous vote in February, all but guaranteeing that the legislation will get to the desk of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) by the end of session next month.
The bill, which would take effect immediately, was introduced on behalf of city officials in Baltimore, where the Horseshoe casino is expected to employ 1,700 people when it opens in 2014 — and where more than half of Maryland’s ex-offenders return from prison each year and often struggle to find employment.
“The impact should be meaningful,” said Mary Pat Fannon, a lobbyist for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
And it could have the same effect in Prince George’s County, where a sixth casino is in the planning stages.
But the most immediate impact would be in Baltimore, where the mayor and other officials have championed the Horseshoe as a major job creator in a city that badly needs one: Baltimore’s unemployment rate averaged 10.2 percent last year, one of the highest figures in the state.
“It’s extremely difficult for an individual with a criminal record to compete for a job in this economic climate,” said Kimberly Haven, a criminal-justice advocate who was convicted of a theft charge two years ago. “They don’t even get a second glance.”
“At some point,” she said, “the past has to stop overshadowing the future. How long does someone’s past have to hang over them?”
More than half of the roughly 19,000 people sent to Maryland prisons in fiscal 2010 and 2011 were from Baltimore, according to Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services data.
For thousands of ex-offenders, the bill would remove an automatic barrier to landing a casino job without damaging the integrity of the state’s booming gaming business, said Caryn York of the Job Opportunities Task Force, a statewide nonprofit organization.
“It’s not saying the casinos have to hire anybody or the state has to license them; it’s just saying some individuals won’t be automatically disqualified from consideration,” said York, who testified in support of the changes. “And we’re talking about jobs where you’re cleaning the bathrooms or sweeping floors in the casino. We’re probably not talking about blackjack dealers — positions that would require a higher level of scrutiny.”