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Panel OKs $168M To Lease Slot Machines

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) – A Maryland board voted 2-1 on Wednesday to spend $168 million in taxpayer dollars to lease about 4,700 slot machines for use in what will be the state’s largest casino in Anne Arundel County.

The move came even as state officials have lowered their revenue projections from slot machines over the next several years.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, who voted against leasing the machines, criticized the decision as a predatory scheme to separate working people from money they can’t afford to lose, while using taxpayer money to help enrich private gambling companies.

“I like you. I think you do a good job,” Franchot told lottery director Stephen Martino. “But I remain disgusted by the fact that we as a state are holding on to this idea that slots are a solution to our fiscal challenges.”

The state will handle the leasing of the gambling machines so that those that don’t perform well in the casino can be replaced with others that are more popular, Martino said. By leasing the machines, the state also is better able to keep up with technological changes, Martino said.

Gov. Martin O’Malley and Treasurer Nancy Kopp supported leasing the machines. All three members of the Board of Public Works are Democrats.

The Anne Arundel casino is projected to generate $362.7 million in revenue for the fiscal year that begins July 1, according to a revised analysis by state analysts in October. The casino is expected to raise about $420 million annually in the next three fiscal years.

In approving the framework for slots in a 2007 special session, Maryland lawmakers decided the state should have control of the machines to ensure greater oversight and transparency.

Maryland already has spent about $99 million for 1,500 slot machines at a casino in Perryville and 800 machines at the Ocean Downs horse racing track in Berlin, on the Eastern Shore. The Anne Arundel County casino, which will be near a popular shopping mall, Arundel Mills, is scheduled to open in June.

At the casino in Perryville, 1,233 slot machines are owned by the state, and 267 are leased. At Ocean Downs, 617 slot machines are state-owned and 183 are leased. Martino said some of the state-owned machines at those two facilities will be switched with leased machines with Wednesday’s board action.

The slot machines are operated in a joint effort between the casinos and the state, with ultimate control resting with the state, Martino said.

The spending on slot machines comes as the state faces a budget shortfall of about $1 billion in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

In October, state analysts released revised revenue estimates of what slot machines were expected to raise in the next several years based on performance so far and changing economic and market conditions in Maryland and neighboring states.

In the current fiscal year, for example, $114 million in general fund revenue will be needed to replace budgeted revenue to the state’s Education Trust Fund. That’s because slot machines are not raising as much money as had been projected. Overall, slot machine revenue estimates are $474.3 million, or 12 percent, lower than previous estimates for fiscal years 2012-2016.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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