Lockfaw and Elder push for table game profits for Snow Hill and Pocomoke
By Brian Gilliland, Associate Editor
(March 22, 2018) Fighting pushback from county staff and fellow commissioners, Ted Elder and Merrill Lockfaw were able to secure a six-month review of table game revenue from the Ocean Downs Casino, with an eye towards distributing profits to Snow Hill and Pocomoke City.
Lockfaw argued the regulations developed in 2011 to limit local shares to those communities that felt a direct impact from casino users had the effect of further splitting the north end from the south end of Worcester County.
Bud Church, on the board at that time, said that was never the intent of the rule, though conceded that may be the net result. Lockfaw and Jim Bunting were also on the board when the rules were adopted.
State law affords local jurisdictions 5.5 percent of the proceeds of video lottery terminals and, starting this year, table games. According to Resolution 11-12 passed in June 2011, that percentage is further broken down into local shares.
Worcester County retains 60 percent of the revenues, Ocean City gets 20 percent, and both Berlin and the Ocean Pines Association get 10 percent.
The county’s plan for that revenue lists five priorities for spending the money: education and workforce development, public safety, road and transportation system improvements, public facilities and services, and problem gambling plus secondary impacts.
In particular, Chief Administrative Officer Harold Higgins wrote to the commissioners, the top priority for the use of the county’s share of the funds is to reduce the debt service for Worcester Technical High School.
“While state law provides that the county benefits from a portion of those new revenues, the law does not specifically require distribution of those local revenues to other jurisdictions within the county,” Higgins wrote.
Higgins said the county gets about $2 million in casino funds each year, while the debt service on Worcester Tech is about $2.5 million. He recommended using the funds to pay off the debt service until 2023, when the debt is retired.
Elder said he favors reducing the county’s share to 40 percent and giving Snow Hill and Pocomoke City shares equal to Berlin and the Ocean Pines Association.
Bunting said he favors giving $5,000 to each of the local fire departments, and using the rest to pay off Worcester Tech’s debt.
Church said that after the initial interest in table games subsided, the county was warned that there may be a net decrease in revenues as gamblers returned to slot machines.
Elder said there was no way table games would be implemented if they wouldn’t be profitable.
“There are four towns in the county and the Ocean Pines Association. Ocean Pines is getting a percentage, because it’s in close proximity, but to exclude the other towns just separates the county,” Elder said. “Fair is fair. Just because we’ve been doing wrong doesn’t make it right.”
Lockfaw moved to postpone the discussion for six months to see which direction the revenues were heading, which passed.