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Worcester lawmakers warn against reemergence of iGaming bill

While a bill that would have allowed internet gaming in Maryland did not end up passing this year, Worcester County lawmakers are concerned about affects to the local casino if it comes back up.

Ocean Downs Casino

Ocean Downs Casino off Route 589
File photo

Passage of bill that failed this year could negatively affect Ocean Downs

By Charlene Sharpe, Associate Editor

While the law didn’t pass this year, officials recently discussed the negative impact an internet gaming bill could have in Worcester County if it is reconsidered at the state level next year. 

Worcester County’s Local Development Council, the committee that reviews how local jurisdictions use casino revenues, talked this week about how House Bill 1319, internet gaming authorization and implementation, would have hurt Ocean Downs Casino if it had passed. Del. Wayne Hartman (R-38C) said the bill or a version of it could come up again during next year’s legislative session.

“There’s no guarantee it isn’t coming back,” he said. “This state has a spending problem.”

The Worcester County Commissioners in February wrote letters of opposition to HB 1319, citing the way the bill would threaten brick-and-mortar institutions like the casino, fuel gambling addictions and result in lost revenues locally. Hartman said that while it was obvious from the start the bill was going to pass in the House, he’d worked with others to ensure there were some amendments that made it less problematic. He pointed out that the House was primarily made up of Democrats but that Republicans did what they could. 

“We make bad things better,” he said.

One amendment made once the bill was introduced, for example, stipulated that internet gaming be tied to a checking account, not a credit card. 

“You could have had somebody literally gamble their house away in a drunken stupor,” he said.

In this case, while he was pleased to get the bill amended it did not pass the Senate. With the state’s need for more funding, however, he’s worried the bill could be reintroduced next year. Hartman said he was concerned about how internet gaming would make gambling addictions worse and could potentially give children access to gambling. He said studies showed it would also result in job loss locally. And as for the casino revenues distributed via local impact grants to area municipalities, those would likely decrease. Local jurisdictions have used casino revenues to fund public safety initiatives and schools, among other projects. 

“If we’re losing money in brick-and-mortar casinos then we’re losing money in what we’re doing right now,” he said at Wednesday’s meeting. 

Cam Bunting, chair of the council, agreed that what she’d reviewed regarding internet gaming in other states hadn’t been positive. Kim Moses, the county’s public information officer, said that Commissioner Diana Purnell had gone to Annapolis this spring, along with representatives from the casino, and testified against the bill. 

“It was a united front that was presented,” she said.

Hartman said there was definitely a chance internet gaming legislation could be pursued next year. As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee he expects to be able to keep a close eye on its progress.  

This story appears in the May 2, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.