By Ian Briggs
If you have turned on a TV in last few months, you have undoubtedly seen the commercials telling you about Question 7. For those unfamiliar with these endless ads, Question 7 is a Maryland Bill which allows casinos to offer table games, such as blackjack and roulette, while also allowing for the construction of a casino in Prince George’s County. Proponents of the bill argued that the tax revenue from gambling would benefit Maryland’s schools and job market. Critics claimed that it would not enrich the schools, but instead enrich casinos.
In the end, Question 7 was passed on Dec. 6 in a statewide referendum by a narrow 52 percent margin. According to The Washington Post, both sides combined poured over $80 million into the campaign. This constitutes the largest amount ever spent in the history of Maryland campaigns. Companies were willing to spend millions to ensure long-term profits in the billions. Corporations like MGM, which plans to build a casino on the National Harbor, had everything to gain by the bill’s passage. While corporations like Penn National Gaming, located in Pennsylvania, had a lot to lose. While Question 7 has been passed, another question remains. Was it worth it?
According to Christen Hawn, a spokesperson for the soon-to-be Prince George’s Casino, the answer is a resounding yes. “Question 7 will bring thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars back into the state.” The Baltimore Sun backs up her claim. Job seekers, educators, unions, and even psychologists are rushing in to get their slice of the gambling pie. Local colleges like Anne Arundel Community College are hard pressed to keep up with demand for gaming, culinary and hotel management classes. MGM has agreed to let the gaming union, Unite Here, set up a chapter in the Prince George’s casino. Unite Here plans to ensure accountability between employer and employees.
As for psychologists, the Maryland Center for Excellence in Problem Gambling has seen a threefold increase in enrolment. The number of people with gambling addictions is expected to increase, as are the number mental health specialists needed to treat them. In short, a significant number of new jobs will be created by the expansion of gambling. As to revenue, analysts project that by 2019, Prince George’s Casino will generate over $713 million a year. In the words of Jeff Nutting, a Washington College student who voted for Question 7, “I would rather have casino revenue stay in Maryland than have it end up in someone else’s state.”
Unfortunately, the downside to all this casino money is that it does not directly benefit the schools. Instead, the tax revenue from gambling goes into a general education fund. This fund does not provide additional money to the schools. Instead, it frees up state funds that would have gone to education. This means that there is no change in the dollar amount spent for schools. “It’s actually a little bit of a shell game,” said Delegate Heather R. Mizeur, a Montgomery County Democrat who has opposed Question 7. On paper, taxes on casinos appear to help improve schools, but in reality they are helping to keep Maryland’s treasury afloat. Another potential danger is “that the state will just deplete the funds, like they did with the transportation fund,” said Dale Frymark, 13, who voted against the bill.
Was it worth passing Question 7? I believe that it was. What it lacks in direct funding for education, it makes up for in shear job creation. The new casino, along with the installment of table games, will provide hundreds of new job opportunities in our state. The problem is not so much Question 7, but the general education fund that it goes towards. In the future, revenue from taxes on gambling needs to go directly to Maryland schools.