The Ocean City Mayor and Council affirmed its position on slots this week – it’s opposed to the expansion of gambling through the one-arm bandits anywhere in the state. Immediately after that confirmation on Tuesday, the inevitable criticism started flowing.
While there was a wide range of comments heard this week through interviews, blogs, forums and letters to the editor, most of the complaints centered around this one premise: money. Critics say the only reason Ocean City does not want slots in the state, particularly at Ocean Downs, is because of the financial ramifications on businesses in the resort.
While we disagree it’s the only reason for the opposition from the town and the business people, we agree money is a motivating factor behind the town’s refusal to support slots. It’s no secret slots coming to Ocean Downs will have a detrimental impact on the greater Ocean City business community. A slot machine venue provides tremendous competition for the disposable income of local residents as well as the eight million people who choose to visit Ocean City each year. It’s a battle for entertainment in the resort’s backyard.
At the risk of sounding like its marketing arm, it’s logical for Ocean City to oppose slots. It’s actually an obvious position. Ocean City has recognized it’s in a serious fight to stay competitive and relative in the East Coast tourism industry. In general, whether it’s the downturn of a cyclical economy, reflections of the real estate market or intense competition for the vacation dollar, business is not what it should be in Ocean City. In reviewing finances for the year, many area operators do not like their sales this year compared to the escalating costs of being in business, and tourism folks have acknowledged this and are trying to change it by boosting advertising funds and tweaking the industry’s approach. The idea is to reiterate Ocean City’s image as a family resort through destination marketing. Ocean City needs to be more visible. It needs to be a player in the regional tourism game, and it needs to draw more people from surrounding states and metropolitan areas.
In some respects, slots may introduce unfamiliar people to the area. That would be a good thing, but the impact on Ocean City businesses and surrounding communities could be immense. The bottom line here is Ocean City has a number of reasons to oppose slots in Maryland and yes money is a part of the argument. However, that’s a row not unique to Ocean City. Of course, resort businesses do not want the competition of 3,500 slots at a race track less than 10 miles away and all that goes with it – the lure of big money, cheap meals, free transportation and giveaways.
We understand and back Ocean City’s position on slots, which is not the panacea for the state’s financial woes. It makes perfect sense for a number of reasons – finances is one but there are others including public safety, transportation and infrastructure. However, we do not fear slots and we do not believe it, if approved, will forever ruin Worcester County, the State of Maryland and Ocean City. There will need to be controls put in place to limit slots, but opponents say any of those good-faith attempts will eventually recede and lead to casino gambling. In some cases, that’s been true. There are others that say that’s not the case.
If the legislature approves a referendum on slots over the next couple weeks, local lawmakers and tourism officials should quickly work on lobbying efforts to limit the proliferation in the near future because we believe the majority of Marylanders want slots here and that a referendum would overwhelmingly pass.