By Elizabeth Bonin, Staff Writer
(Sept. 12, 2019) The governments of Snow Hill and Pocomoke may get an indirect slice of the gambling revenue from Ocean Downs Casino, but they won’t know until the county commissioners begin their budgeting for the next fiscal year.
The commissioners last Tuesday postponed until May consideration of a request from Commissioner Josh Nordstrom that southern Worcester municipalities be cut in for a piece of the gambling proceeds.
Nordstrom, who represents the Pocomoke district, is seeking an unrestricted grant based on 10 percent of table game revenues.
Nordstrom has championed the idea as a way to repair infrastructure, promote tourism and to beautify the two communities that were excluded from the state legislation in 2009 to build support for gambling in the coastal area.
The state law that legalized gambling in Maryland contained a provision that allocated a percentage of casino revenue as local impact grants for the county and the communities that might feel the effects of gambling’s presence.
But Snow Hill and Pocomoke City, at 19 and 32 miles away, respectively, were deemed too far removed from the casino to experience any impact.
Nordstrom, however, said the two towns have good shot at benefitting from the casino’s success in next May’s budget deliberations.
“We have an excellent chance of making this happen,” said Nordstrom, who looked at the postponed discussion as a positive sign. Had his request been discussed and denied at the commissioner’s meeting, he said, it would not have moved on to the budget discussions. Even then, if the commissioners had approved cutting southern Worcester in for a share, that decision would have been nonbinding, he said.
“The potential revenue will stay the same,” Nordstrom said. “We would have to discuss and vote on it at that time as well.”
He said that though the commissioners were generally supportive of the grant, they were worried about the timing. They did not want to commit to a 2020/21 budget idea in August or September when full budget discussions are not scheduled for several more months.
“That was the big win for today,” Nordstrom said. “Everyone seems to be listening to each other.”
Commissioner Joseph Mitrecic was one of those who advised waiting on the vote.
“It would have had to be voted on again at budget time,” Mitrecic said. “Had it passed the other day and be voted down during budget time, it would’ve been very discouraging. It’s better to vote one time.”
Table game revenue began flowing in the budget in December 2018. For FY18, the total revenue was $167,486.44 and then shot up to $428,542.42 for the full FY19. If the grant were in place in 2019, Pocomoke and Snow Hill would have received an approximately $42,854.24 unrestricted grant.
It would not directly take money from the table game revenue, which, per state statute, is distributed to Ocean City, Berlin and Ocean Pines.
Mitrecic has supported the idea of using the extra income Worcester County will receive from the room tax increase for the grant. He said the county could receive an approximately extra $110,000. Nordstorm had considered voting against the room tax increase because he felt that Pocomoke and Snow Hill were not receiving enough financial support.
“All of the county can reap the benefits of that increase,” Mitrecic said.