NEW YORK -- In the latest chapter of the Maryland gambling fights, it's casino vs. casino.
A group called "Get the Facts Vote No on 7" will air an advertisement on television this weekend that argues against Question 7, Gov. Martin O'Malley's (D) ballot initiative that would allow table games at Maryland casinos and enable the creation of a new casino in Prince George's County. The ad joins a deluge of others, as part of what a local television station is calling "the most expensive political battle in Md. history."
The ad features a bespectacled woman standing in front of a bookshelf, citing her 33 years of teaching experience in Maryland. "I do not support Question 7, because I don't think the money will ever get to the classroom," she says. "I've heard these promises several times before, and I have seen no changes in the classroom." She says she feels like "politicians are trying to dupe us again."
The group is also releasing a second teacher-related ad. This time a former teacher from Mitchellville, Md. voices her opposition to the measure, saying, "I do not believe that money from the casinos are going to get to the classroom." She goes on to say, "We have been promised and promised and promised. Politicians are not very good at keeping promises."
(WATCH the ad below)
While O'Malley and groups sponsored by gambling group MGM have asserted that the millions of dollars netted by the expansion would benefit schools, both the Baltimore Sun editorial board and the state comptroller have pointed out that the casino money would simply replace existing school dollars, making money initially budgeted for education fungible. School funding in Maryland is dictated by budgeting formulae set primarily by the 2002 Bridge to Excellence Act, known as the Thornton Law. An infusion of casino revenue would not change that, but it might free up money previously in the education budget for other uses.
The television ad follows a recent mailer sent out by No on 7, which features a picture of Benjamin Franklin's head on a hundred-dollar bill, with a piece of masking tape that says "loophole" photoshopped over his mouth. "How do we know there’s a loophole in Question 7 that works against education funding?" the mailer asks, answering with the text of the measure itself, which says that education money gained from the amendment would be a replacement, not an addition.
"It's all a shell game to politicians," the mailer says. "They move money from one account to the other with almost no accountability."
As the Sun reported, No on 7 is sponsored by a MGM rival, casino owner Penn National Gaming. According to state campaign finance reports, Penn has contributed $21 million to the cause, ostensibly because they are concerned about education in Maryland. But the group would also have a lot to lose if Question 7 passes and new, competitive casinos opened: The group owns Hollywood Casino in Perryville, Md., and Charles Town Race and Slots in West Virginia, the Sun reported, which would compete with any new casino in Prince George's County created as a result of the ballot measure.
O'Malley has called similar spots "a bunch of West Virginia casino hooey," and claims that Penn National is trying to protect its casinos.
In response, the Sun notes that amendments cannot change school budgeting formulae. The measure "just allows general tax revenues that would otherwise have been spent on the schools to go somewhere else," the paper wrote. "Theoretically, the state could use the slots money to increase total education funding, but it has never done so."
State Comptroller Peter Franchot told The Diamondback, the University of Maryland's student newspaper, that the education argument for gambling is a ruse devised to interest "voters who want to do the right thing for kids, when it does nothing to bring in new dollars for education." Franchot went on to call the claim that Question 7 would bring education money to the state "a lie," noting that "any new money added to the trust fund is taken out of the education budget on the other side.”
This post has been updated to include exclusive information about a second, forthcoming ad by the No on 7 group.