Slots Won't Help County Budget

Slots Won't Help County Budget

UPDATE (10/26/09):  According to section 9-1A-31 of Senate Bill 3, the monies the county may eventually receive from slots will be in the form of Local Impact Grants that "shall be used for improvements in the communities in immediate proximity to the video lottery facilities and may be used for the following purposes: (1) infrastructure improvements; (2) facilities; (3) public safety; (4) sanitation; (5) economic and community development, including housing; and (6) other public services and improvements".  A 15-member Local Development Council must be established to advise the county on the best use of these funds. 

Best accounting practices would be to manage a grant designated for such specific purposes separately from the county's general fund.  However, this is apparently not required by Senate Bill 3.  If the county chooses to simply add these monies to the general fund, it would not be surprising if residents near a new slots facility received little additional funding to mitigate the impact of gambling; the county could simply use the funds to cover already-planned spending in the area.

ORIGINAL ENTRY (9/8/09):  Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold has been chastising the County Council for not changing zoning regulations around Arundel Mills Mall to allow slots.  In a statement two weeks ago, Leopold indicated that the $30 million in potential revenue the county would receive from slot machines would be a new revenue source the county could use to pay for services.

Leopold is mistaken.  Anne Arundel County would receive 4.51% of the profits from slot machines at the mall, but this wouldn’t go into the general fund.  The county would be restricted under the law to using these local impact fees to make infrastructure improvements in the immediate vicinity of the mall.  In other words, the revenues could be used to widen the roads near the mall to handle the increased traffic resulting from having slots there, but it could not be used for schools, libraries or other general needs of county residents.  

I was at one of the County Council meetings this spring when hundreds of people came to plead against allowing gambling at Arundel Mills.  I understand completely; I wouldn’t want gambling in my neighborhood either.   

I’ve seen what gambling can do to change the character of an area.  It turned two sleepy Colorado mountain towns, Central City and Black Hawk, into one-dimensional destinations for tour buses, chasing out the local stores and restaurants in the process.  In the first five years after gambling was introduced, one-third of the residents left Black Hawk.

The area around Arundel Mills Mall is a thriving residential area with hundreds of homes right across the street and behind the mall.   Baltimore City prohibited slot machines on properties adjacent to or within ¼ mile of property zoned for residential use.  If the same protections had been written into the bill for Anne Arundel County residents, slots at Arundel Mills Mall probably wouldn’t have been an option.

Senate Bill 3 was written with the assumption that Laurel Park Racecourse would be the site in Anne Arundel County offering slot machines, and this location makes far more sense.  Laurel Park sits on a relatively secluded parcel of land where people have been betting on horse races since 1911.  While there are some homes in the area, it is likely that the residents have made their peace with gambling.

The referendum allowing slots was carefully conceived.  Almost all Marylanders could vote for it knowing that slot machines would never be located in their neighborhood, which was undoubtedly key to the high level of support for its passage.

There’s no reason we should allow such a vote to risk the quality of life of the thousands of families who live near Arundel Mills Mall.  The County Council should reject Leopold’s request to rezone the area.  If the tax revenue is critical to the state, state leaders should shift their focus to figuring out how to reopen the bidding to allow slots at Laurel Park Racecourse. 

Follow Joanna on Twitter

Connect with Joanna