Does Maryland need any more land-based casinos? - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Does Maryland need any more land-based casinos?

It’s no surprise that a country that has been built on the pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit should have a long-standing relationship with gambling. From the paddle steamers that plowed up and down the Mississippi in the 19th century to the phenomenon that is Las Vegas today, the opportunity to try one’s luck in a bid to make a small fortune has always been a strong component in the American psyche.

Of course, it was the Vegas of the 1950s and 60s that proved to be pivotal in bringing casino games in particular into the mainstream. This brought with it an appealing luster of glamour thanks to the many stars who made their names or cemented their reputations by becoming Vegas regulars.

Bringing things right up to date, May 2018 saw another watershed moment in the history of American gambling when the Supreme Court ruled that sports betting should be made legal. For many years, the major leagues had fought against this, believing that it could bring corruption into their respective sports. Nevertheless, the judges found in favor of New Jersey, the state that had been pressing for the change in the law.

It’s surely no coincidence that this is the state in which Atlantic City has been an eastern seaboard challenger to Vegas, albeit with fewer casinos and a less glamorous allure to attract gambling enthusiasts.

The new law permitting sports betting, cynics may claim, simply legitimizes what many people had already been doing already. Black market sports betting is reportedly worth around $150 billion a year. But in the case of casinos, everything is far more out in the open. After all, when a casino opens it’s there for everyone to see and, more importantly, visit. With the US economy doing well and unemployment falling, some think that there is certainly capacity for more bricks and mortar casinos to open, especially in states not particularly well-served by them at the moment.

A history of gambling in Maryland

Looking at it from the perspective of Maryland, this may well be one of the states that havethe capacity for additional gambling opportunities. At present, it is home to six casinos which have been developed since the law was first changed to permit them in 2008. Initially, only electronic games and slots were allowed, but in 2012 the law was altered to include table games like roulette, blackjack and poker.

While six may seem like a reasonable number for the state to have, one only has to look over to Las Vegas for a complete contrast. The most recent figures suggest that city-wide there are 104 casinos, with 45 being centred on its famous Strip. Why should Vegas get to enjoy more gambling freedom than Maryland, and enjoy all the tourism benefits as a result?

Admittedly, Las Vegas is the undisputed capital of gambling in the country so perhaps a better comparison can be made with a state like Delaware. Here, there are just three casinos but one also has to take into account the population that they serve. The so-called “First State” has a population of under one million compared with Maryland’s six million inhabitants, which helps to bring things a little more into perspective.

Is Maryland becoming a gambling mecca?

Maryland’s casinos range from the relatively small and intimate to far larger ones that wouldn’t look out of place in a Vegas setting. A good example of the former is Rocky Gap Casino Resort which is up in the north west of the state. Opened in May 2013 and owned by Golden Entertainment, the casino area itself only covers 7,500 sq ft and features just 17 tables and around 660 slots but it makes up for its comparatively limited gambling offering with many other attractions – including a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course.

At the other end of the scale, there’s the highly rated Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore. The state’s second largest casino has a total of 122,000 sq ft of gaming space split over two floors. It’s owned by CBAC Gaming, and it was opened with a lavish ceremony in August 2014 following its $440 million construction.

But this is dwarfed by the state’s biggest casino which you’ll find in Hanover, near Annapolis.

Maryland Live! is owned by Cordish Companies and has a gaming floor of 160,000 sq ft with 200 gaming table, 4,350 slots and a 52 table poker room. With last year’s addition of a new hotel and conference centre, its popularity has increased even more.

Employment and economic prosperity: the perks of casinos

While these casinos would, collectively, seem to be capable of meeting the needs of gamblers in the state, there are definitely questions to be answered about whether there could be a need for more to open their doors.

Certainly, the industry seems to be in good health and in the first four months of 2018 alone casinos were reported to have raised $150 million in state and local taxes from the $414 million in revenue that they generated. Their contribution to the economy is significant in other ways too with an estimated 7,000 people being employed in the sector in dealer, hospitality and administrative roles.

It’s also important to take a closer look at where the revenue raised from casinos actually goes. Over the years that gambling has been paying into the state’s coffers over $2 billion of it has been channelled into public education at all levels. The revenue collected by casinos is also used to improve transport and hospitals – as well as support the treatment of problem gamblers, too.

So while these all seem like fairly compelling reasons for the expansion of the casino industry, this also has to be examined in a wider economic context. Fortunately, there’s good news for casino operators, too. That’s because Maryland has one of the highest levels of household income in the US according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis as well as having more millionaires per capita than any other state, 7.7% in 2013.

Employment is also relatively high thanks to the proximity of much of the population to the Washington DC area and the many governmental and administrative jobs that this creates. The falling unemployment rate, down from 4.3% in July 2018 to 3.9% in December of the same year suggests that this is a picture that will continue to improve.

It’s also a state where tourism makes a significant contribution to the economy with national and international visitors spending $17 billion a year.

Online gambling – an alternative to land-based casinos

So far everything seems to point to the potential of success for new casinos for the state but there may also be one fairly major obstacle on the horizon – namely online gaming. Thanks to its global popularity a number of states including Nevada and New Jersey have already legalized it and there’s no doubt that Maryland’s legislators are watching these states with interest.

Over in the UK, online casinos are having a profound effect on their bricks and mortar rivals to such an extent that remote gambling is the largest part of the sector generating over 33% of all revenue. With this in mind, it’s easy to imagine that online gaming could take off just as quickly for Maryland players who would prefer the ease and convenience of playing for big money prizes wherever and whenever the mood takes them.

Not only that – but the games are better than ever, with exciting online slot games themed on a variety of niches, from movies to music and more.

Naturally, this is looking into the future with nothing decided yet. But for any big casino operators thinking of building in Maryland, it’s certainly something well worth bearing in mind.

So when it comes to judging whether or not Maryland needs any more casinos, it’s a case of exploring how the gambling focus is shifting worldwide. Whether online or not, virtual operators are clearly leading the way in the industry – so perhaps land-based casinos should not be the sole focus of anyone hoping to open new casinos in the state.

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