Panel that suggested $10M casino bailout looks again at struggling Delaware gambling industry



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DOVER, Delaware — A state panel that recommended a $10 million casino bailout approved by lawmakers earlier this year reconvened Thursday to figure out what, if anything, to do next to help Delaware's struggling gambling industry.

Members of the gambling study commission made no decisions but will meet at least twice more before a January 15 deadline to submit further recommendations.

Options the panel might consider include eliminating the industry's annual $3 million table games fee and reducing the state's share of table game revenue from 29.4 percent to 15 percent, which would be an estimated $7.2 million change in favor of the state's three casinos.

"I would hope you would pay a lot of attention to the table game rates," Bill Rickman, owner of Delaware Park casino in Stanton, told panel members. "We don't make any money on it, so how can we continue that?"

Denis McGlynn, president and CEO of Dover Downs Gaming and Entertainment, is hoping state officials also consider setting aside a portion of gambling revenue for Delaware's casinos to use for marketing and capital expenditures.

The commission is charged with studying challenges facing Delaware's gambling industry and recommending ways to help the state remain competitive in a region that is becomingly increasingly saturated with casinos.

"I think all of you have been following what's been going on in Atlantic City," Finance Secretary Tom Cook told other board members, referring to the closing of three casinos in the New Jersey gambling mecca this year. A fourth casino is slated to close next week, and Trump Entertainment Resorts, which sought bankruptcy protection this week, says it may close the Taj Mahal in November.

The troubles in Atlantic City haven't stopped the proliferation of new casinos in nearby states, including Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The Horseshoe Casino opened in Baltimore on Aug. 26 and earned roughly a million dollars a day in its first six days of operations. Maryland officials say casino earnings in August were the highest one-month total since gambling was legalized in the state. Plans for a $925 million MGM gambling resort at National Harbor in Prince George's County could further solidify Maryland's share of the regional gambling market.

Meanwhile, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie issued a directive this week allowing his state's casinos and racetracks to immediately offer sports betting, a move likely to be challenged in federal court by professional and collegiate sports leagues.

McGlynn said after Thursday's meeting that he still believes Delaware's gambling industry can remain viable despite the loss of customers to newer and bigger casinos in neighboring states if state officials revise the current revenue sharing structure.

"We're not going to back to where we were at our peak, but we're still going to be a meaningful contributor to the general fund and a meaningful provider of jobs," he said.

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