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Maryland's second casino opened on Tuesday with 750 slot machines in a $45 million parlor next to the Ocean Downs horse racing track on the Eastern Shore.
The 34,000-square-foot casino will employ 236 people at the track near the resort town of Ocean City. Gov. Martin O'Malley noted at the opening that building the casino supported about 300 construction jobs, and he cheered it as a job creator and money-collector for the state.
"The most powerful place in our state is the family's home and there's no way to protect that home unless mom or dad has a job, so the 236 jobs here are important," O'Malley said.
The casino's opening comes more than two years after Maryland voters approved a constitutional amendment legalizing slot machine gambling in a state where the issue had stymied lawmakers for years. In a 2007 special session, state lawmakers punted the divisive issue to the voters. The amendment passed in every county.
But the difficulty of legalizing slots in Maryland prompted lawmakers to impose restrictions to make the vote more palatable, and any further expansion of gambling like table games will require another vote by residents. The soonest that can happen is 2012.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a longtime supporter of expanded gambling to raise state revenue, used the opening to criticize restrictions to the casino that he believes should be lifted.
The casino can't offer free food or drinks, nor can it provide entertainment beyond a piano player. The owner also can't build a hotel or a golf course there. The restrictions came because nearby hotel and other business owners opposed the casino.
"This is a great facility," Miller, D-Calvert, told reporters before the ribbon cutting. "It needs to expand. The restrictions on it need to be lifted."
The opening means that Maryland now has about 2,250 slot machines of a potential 15,000 slot machines operational. Maryland's first casino opened in Perryville off of Interstate 95 in September. That casino has 1,500 machines.
Three other potential casino sites in the state have stalled for a variety of reasons, including a lack of interest at a site in western Maryland, local opposition to what will be the state's largest casino in Anne Arundel County and trouble finding a viable operator for a casino in Baltimore.
The Anne Arundel County site that is being developed by the Cordish Cos. near a popular shopping mall survived a referendum in November initiated by opponents. It is on track to be finished by late 2012 with 4,750 slot machines. A temporary casino with 2,000 machines could be finished by late this year.