Maryland panel OKs $168M to lease slot machines

(Photo courtesy rob_boudon via Flickr)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Despite a big drop in estimated revenue over the next several years from slot machine gambling, a Maryland board voted 2-1 on Wednesday to spend $168 million in taxpayer dollars to lease about 4,700 slot machines for use in what will be the state's largest casino in Anne Arundel County.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, who voted against leasing the machines, criticized the decision as a predatory scheme to separate working people from money they can't afford to lose, while using taxpayer money to help enrich private gambling companies.

"I like you. I think you do a good job," Franchot told lottery director Stephen Martino. "But I remain disgusted by the fact that we as a state are holding on to this idea that slots are a solution to our fiscal challenges."

The state will lease the slot machines so machines that don't perform well in the casino can be replaced with other ones that are more popular, Martino said.

Gov. Martin O'Malley and Treasurer Nancy Kopp supported leasing the machines. All three members of the Board of Public Works are Democrats.
In approving the framework for slots in a 2007 special session, Maryland lawmakers decided the state should have control of the machines to ensure greater oversight.

Maryland already has spent about $99 million for 1,500 slot machines for a casino in Perryville and 800 machines for the Ocean Downs horse racing track in Berlin, on the Eastern Shore. The Anne Arundel County casino, which will be near a popular shopping mall, Arundel Mills, is scheduled to open in June.

The spending on slot machines comes as the state faces a budget shortfall of about $1 billion in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

In October, state analysts released revised revenue estimates of what slot machines are expected to raise in the next several years based on performance so far and changing economic and market conditions in Maryland and neighboring states.

In the current fiscal year, for example, $114 million in general fund revenue will be needed to replace budgeted revenue to the state's Education Trust Fund. That's because slot machines are not raising as much money as had been projected. Overall, slot machine revenue estimates are $474.3 million, or 12 percent, lower than previous estimates for fiscal years 2012-2016.