Maryland General Assembly Might Cut Casino Tax Rates This Month

Hollywood Casino Perryville Taxes

Hollywooc Casino in Perryville would receive a 5% tax break if the Gaming Commission’s recommendation is taken.

Maryland’s land-based casinos might soon receive a tax break from the General Assembly, but some prominent residents are resentful about the fine print in the law which allows such a reduction. The Baltimore Sun Editorial Board discussed the possibility of a tax reduction for Maryland Live, the Horseshoe Baltimore, and the Hollywood Casino in Perryville.

When Maryland voters first approved casino development 10 years ago, they were told the money would go into the Education Trust Fund.

In essence, they were told that casino tax revenues would go directly to fund education in the state.

They later realized the new law did not increase spending on education at all. Not a single penny went to Education Trust Fund that would not have done so before the law was passed.

Maryland Education Trust Fund

Instead, the money that went to the Education Trust Fund simply freed the original contributions to be used for other government programs. Many Maryland residents felt they had been sold a bill of goods, or perhaps been the victims of a shell game. They were told they were voting to fund education, but it was just a sales job.

In 2012, Maryland voters approved a 6th land-based casino in the state — this time in Prince George Casino. The licensed eventually went to the MGM National Harbor, which has been a fantastic success.

2012 Casino Referendum

The 2012 referendum gave Maryland officials the ability to reduce the tax rate on the already existing casinos. Since the MGM National Harbor was expected to cannibalize a certain amount of casino revenue from the existing businesses, this only made sense.

Voters agreed to do so with their eyes open, knowing that the multi-billion dollar casino in Prince George Casino would generate higher tax revenues from the state than the prior arrangement. Eventually, the law led to a 7% decrease in taxes on the Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore and an 8% increase on the taxes taken from Maryland Live! Casino.

What those same voters might not have understood is the fine print said the General Assembly could reduce the rate of taxation a second time. The deadline for that reduction is on January 1, 2019, so the Maryland General Assembly has a big decision to make later this month.

Tax Breaks for Maryland Casinos

At stake is a 2% tax break for Maryland Live!, a 3% reduction for the Horseshoe Baltimore, and a 5% tax break for the Hollywood. The tax break cannot be used for just anything. By law, the increased take must be spent on “marketing or facilities improvements”.

Presumably, these improvements and investments would increase the revenues generated from Maryland’s existing casinos, because it would drive people to the establishments. This in turn would offset the state’s tax losses.

What the Baltimore Sun Editorial Board reported was the original tax break went mostly to the casinos and not the state treasury. The fear is the 2018-2019 tax break would do more of the same. In short, the taxes would help the casinos’ profits, but not the Eduction Trust Fund.

Gaming Commission Recommendation

At a meeting later this month, the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Commission will recommend to the General Assembly how much of a tax break (if any) the three casinos deserve. Then the General Assembly will make a decision based on the commission’s report.

The upshot of the Baltimore Sun editorial is the state’s educators and students are going to miss out on revenues, though the issue will be couched by proponents as a way to help the education fund. The casinos will point to the decline in revenues after MGM National Harbor opened — and it was significant — as a reason to reduce the amount going into the Education Trust Fund.

Voters and the lawmakers they put in office can make their decision as they see fit. What they should not expect is to see the tax reduction help the state’s education system. That ship sailed a long time ago.

Update: The Lottery and Gaming Commission suggested the maximum tax break for Maryland Live! Casino, Horseshoe Baltimore, and Hollywood Casino. Lawmakers have yet to decide what to do.