The Maryland public has now fully embraced casino gambling with the results of last week’s election that produced the most expensive single ballot issue or political race in Maryland history. More than $90 million was spent on the casino measure, with rivals MGM and Penn National splitting most of that tab. MGM, which desperately wants a casino in National Harbor, pushed for passage, while Penn National tried to protect its turf and convince voters that the promised additional revenue to education wouldn’t materialize.
Maryland’s casinos will now be able to offer table games and expand operating hours, and they are the last in the immediate area to follow this path, first blazed by West Virginia and followed by Delaware and Pennsylvania as the competition intensified. The Maryland casino market is still in its infancy – three casinos are open and two more have been licensed. A Baltimore casino, expected to open in 2014, will no doubt have significant impacts on those already operating, much like Maryland Live! has hurt Hollywood Casino Perryville. Maryland Live!, south of Baltimore, is the state’s largest casino to date, and since it opened in June, slot revenues at the Perryville property have fallen by almost 29 percent.
Further north, Rhode Island’s Twin River was rewarded for its amazing performance over the years, with voters heartily approving table games. Local voters in Newport did not give a similar green light for Newport Grand’s casino.
Over the past five years, VLT revenue at Twin River has grown by a total of 39 percent. That is a fabulous number considering that slot revenues at the two tribal casinos in nearby Connecticut fell by 24 percent over the same period. Rhode Island’s other casino, Newport Grand, saw VLT revenues decline by 31 percent during this time.
And Twin River is still growing, although at a much smaller pace since July, the beginning of the state’s current fiscal year. VLT revenues were up just 1.5 percent in the period from July through October. Still, that easily beats Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, which combined to lose another 10 percent in slot revenue from July through September.
Table games will give Twin River a chance to further build its customer base in advance of casinos in Massachusetts, where the process is still inching forward. The feds last month rejected the tribal-state compact with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, sending everyone back to the drawing board and further clouding the casino picture in the eastern part of the state. After a proposal by Steve Wynn for Foxboro fell through, it appeared as though Suffolk Downs would be the only group left standing for the Boston-area license, but the Boston Herald recently reported that there is now serious interest from big players such as Hard Rock and casino mogul Neil Bluhm. Meanwhile, competition remains fierce out in the western part of the state.
But the Bay State is moving slowly, and if New Hampshire hurries, that state may even beat Massachusetts to the finish line. New Hampshire’s governor elect, Maggie Hassan, is on record as a gaming supporter, but likely favors a single casino site. Officials at Rockingham Park are of course hopeful that the dormant racetrack will be that site. You can expect renewed interest in gaming legislation next year, when there won’t be a governor waiting to automatically veto any such measures.