OCEAN CITY – The Mayor and Council took a firm stance against slots at a work session Tuesday afternoon, with a majority vote to vehemently oppose slots in Maryland.
After a presentation from the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant-Association (OCHMRA) and the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, the City Council took a vote and officially adopted a position on the contentious slots issue.
The council voted four in favor with Council members Margaret Pillas and Jay Hancock abstaining, and Councilman Lloyd Martin absent, to oppose slots, to go to the hearing in Annapolis to make their position known and to immediately send a letter outlining the town’s position to the state.
“Nobody should be surprised by the position of our Mayor and Council. We have been steadfast in our opposition,” said Mayor Rick Meehan.
Meehan noted the importance of the Town of Ocean City and tourism, pointing out that the town alone contributes over $100 million per year in revenues to the state.
“I understand, and I think we all do, the position that the governor and the state is in with the deficit,” Meehan said, adding that although he can empathize with the state’s situation, he cannot find justification in supporting slots as a solution.
As for slots at Ocean Downs, which would get 3,500 machines under the governor’s proposed bill, Meehan voiced equal opposition, asking why anyone would want to put slots at the gateway to the biggest residential community in Worcester County.
Meehan also took a stance from a real estate point of view, noting that in his 20-plus years in real estate, he has never had a client buy in hopes that slots would someday come to the area. Meehan noted that it has been quite the opposite, with many buyers wary of the possibility of slots near their homes.
The Mayor and Council’s opposition to slots coincided with the stance heard Tuesday from the OCHMRA, the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Committee and the Economic Development Committee.
“We firmly believe that one of the things that slots does is create a transfer of wealth,” OCHMRA Executive Director Susan Jones said, pointing out that any transfer of spending in a resort area would have adverse affects on local businesses.
Jones said that Maryland tourism is an $11 billion industry, the fourth largest industry in Maryland. Although slots promise to contribute to that $11 billion industry, Jones maintained that it would have the opposite effect and would take away from an already thriving industry.
Jones suggested that the state take the energy being put toward slots, and channel it towards creating more family and activity based attractions.
Melanie Pursel, Executive Director of the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce also voiced adamant opposition to slots, noting that the chamber had taken its stance of opposition on Aug, 16.
“We are adamantly opposed to any legislation that will allow slots in Maryland,” Pursel said.
Pursel backed arguments that slots typically go in depressed areas, agreeing that Maryland and Ocean City are not depressed like West Virginia or Atlantic City, where slots appeared to be the only option.
“Of course, if you’re at the bottom you can only go up,” she said of placing slots in depressed areas.
Pursel also reinforced the notion that altering the tourism balance in any way could be detrimental.
EDC President Dr. Leonard Berger, owner of the Clarion Hotel in Ocean City among other properties, spoke on behalf of the EDC.
“We have been adamantly opposed to slot machines, we see no redeeming virtues of slot machines,” Berger said.
Berger explained the dependence of tourism on disposable income, adding that slots would compete with Ocean City’s tourism for the disposable income of its tourists and inevitably upset the balance of the local economy.
Berger pointed out how drastically the proposed number of slots had changed, going from a proposed 7,500 to 15,000. Berger said that the number would only rise once slots got a foot in the door of the state.
Support for opposition was also heard from the rest of the City Council, with Councilwoman Nancy Howard questioning what slots had done for the State of Delaware. Howard noted that the schools, jobs and projects, such as the long-delayed construction of the Indian River Bridge, had not seen any improvements as a result of slots.
Councilman Jim Hall explained the average tourist or resident of Maryland would not reap the benefits of slots.
“Casinos are built on the backs of poor people, not wealthy people,” said Hall.