OCEAN PINES – Everyone in northern Worcester County wants their piece of the slots pie, and the Ocean Pines Association (OPA) moved to protect its own interests in future slot machine gambling revenue in a letter to state elected officials early this month.
The letter, dated Dec. 5 but released to the public just this week, asks the Lower Shore delegation to “reconsider the present allocation of funds to reflect the true impact of slots, which will fall on Worcester’s largest residential community, and on the smaller communities located on Racetrack Rd.”
No one has any real, concrete idea of the impacts slot machines at Ocean Downs would have on surrounding communities, OPA President Dave Stevens said.
The impact on the 15,000 people making their homes in Ocean Pines, which is the largest year-round community in Worcester County, could be severe.
Traffic will certainly increase on Route 589, already considered a congested road, which is several years from dualization under current state plans.
“We have four exits and all four exit onto Route 589. Automatically, you have to look at those interactions,” Stevens said. “Certainly, we would expect to see the number of emergency service calls for our police and fire department increase.”
The Ocean Pines letter, sent before the County Commissioners asked for all slots revenue to be channeled to the county, versus following the split between county and local municipalities laid out in the state legislation, does not ask for a specific percentage.
“It is our hope that we can work together to improve this legislation, which we understand will be revisited in the 2009 [General Assembly] session,” the letter reads.
Ocean Pines, as an unincorporated housing development, is not mentioned in the legislation, unlike Berlin and Ocean City, and has no assigned percentage of revenue. Any funding to mitigate the impact of slot machine gambling at Ocean Downs on the Ocean Pines community would be at the discretion of Worcester County, which under the current law, is assigned 70 percent of an unpredictable take.
Stevens said the OPA expects Worcester to follow its usual budget mechanism of granting funds to Ocean Pines for public safety or other impacts from slot machines at Ocean Downs.
Some would rather not see slots come to Ocean Downs at all. Stevens said that Senator Lowell Stolztfus responded to the letter by agreeing that slot machines could have a devastating impact on Ocean Pines.
The county might have the power to use its zoning authority to block slot machines at Ocean Downs, but Stevens doubts that will happen.
OPA Board member Marty Clarke, who worked with Worcester County Citizens Against Slots to prevent passage of the slot machine referendum, would like to see slots blocked. “I wish that we would fight the zoning. I think it’s a terrible thing for the community. I think the impact is not measurable,” Clarke said. “I think the impact is beyond measurable.”
With support for slot machines in Worcester County essentially split, Clarke does not think the commissioners could be persuaded to block slot machines via zoning regulations.
“I don’t want slots. We got them. If we have any impacts from them, we’re covered. It’s in the legislation,” Clarke said.
“The important thing is we exercise prudence and have some faith in the officials we’re working with, and confidence they’ll arrive at some equitable solution,” Stevens said.