Md. bullish about gambling as first casino opens

By John Wagner, Ann E. Marimow and Kyle Dropp
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 30, 2010

With Maryland's first casino opening this week, strong majorities of voters say that they consider the state's embrace of slot-machine gambling a good thing and that they think the revenue will bolster the state's ailing budget, a Washington Post poll has found.

Moreover, more than half of Maryland voters in the survey say they are ready for the state to take the next step: legalizing Las Vegas-style table games - such as blackjack, craps and roulette - at its new casinos.

"If you're legalizing one, then why not the other?" asked David Leeman, a Silver Spring resident and retired lawyer for the Energy Department, who recently visited a casino in Reno, Nev., while on vacation.

The bullish outlook on gambling comes in a poll conducted in the final days before Hollywood Casino Perryville opened in the northeastern corner of the state.

The casino, which features 1,500 slot machines, will celebrate its grand opening Thursday with a visit from Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), who championed a 2008 ballot measure in which 59 percent of Maryland voters authorized five slots locations around the state.

The Perryville site, owned by Penn National Gaming, has been the one consistent bright spot in the state's fledgling program. Few gambling companies sought to run the casinos when Maryland solicited bids in early 2009, at the height of the economic downturn, and a number of setbacks have occurred since.

Following construction delays, a second, smaller casino is scheduled to open in mid-December at Ocean Downs racetrack on the the Eastern Shore. It will initially have 750 machines.

But the fate of Maryland's two largest proposed facilities - in Anne Arundel County and Baltimore - remains uncertain. And slots boosters, including O'Malley, have acknowledged that a promised $660 million in annual revenue for state education programs won't be realized nearly as soon as advertised.

Still, 57 percent of registered voters in Maryland say the arrival of slots casinos is a "good thing," while 32 percent say it is a "bad thing," the poll found.

According to the survey, 69 percent say the revenue from the facilities will eventually help the state budget at least somewhat. Only 26 percent say the revenue will not help much or at all.

Slots have emerged as an issue in the governor's race, with former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) accusing O'Malley of having made a mess of the program. Casino supporters split about evenly in the poll when asked whether O'Malley or Ehrlich deserves more credit for the slots.

O'Malley is given the nod by 35 percent of slots supporters, while 30 percent of them say Ehrlich.

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