DOVER - After 20 consecutive quarters of negative growth, Delaware's three casinos came out ahead for the first quarter of 2012, but that was where the good news ended for the state's gaming industry.
Ed Sutor, chairman of the Video Lottery Advisory Council, attributed the recent success to "terrific" weather, having an extra day in February and an extra Saturday in March. But he expressed serious concern during Tuesday's board meeting at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino.
"Don't think the bump-up in the first quarter is going to save the industry," Mr. Sutor said.
He said Delaware casinos expect to take a "significant" hit when new casinos in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and especially Maryland come online.
"The 800-pound gorilla in the room is the new casino at Arundel Mills," Mr. Sutor said of the Maryland Live! Casino, which is expected to open in June. "Fifty percent of our business comes from Maryland and 45 percent of our business lives within 50 miles of Arundel Mills. That is going to be a significant hit to us."
Based on estimates from the Delaware Economic and Financial Advisory Council, Mr. Sutor said Delaware casinos are projected to lose $50 million in revenue over the next three years.
In order to recoup some of those losses, the council has asked finance secretary Tom Cook and Gov. Jack Markell's office to allow for an expansion of gaming offerings in the state and reduce some of the state fees.
As a result of the request, the Delaware Gaming Competitiveness Act of 2012 was born and could be discussed and voted on when the Delaware General Assembly returns to work next week.
According to a breakdown of the proposed legislation, the components include the authorization of Keno throughout the state and sports lottery in convenience stores, VFW halls, fire companies, etc.
Businesses that carry the game would get 5 percent of the revenue and the aim is to have sports lottery online by August in time for the NFL pre- and regular season.
The act would also authorize internet game sales for all three major casinos in Delaware, including slots, blackjack, Roulette, and poker, which would connect players with those from out of state.
The proposed legislation would also provide licensing feel relief to the three major casinos - Delaware Park Horse Racing and Slots, Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, and Harrington Raceway and Casino - which would save the gaming facilities an estimated $7.75 million.
But the savings would not go into the pockets of executives, Mr. Sutor said. Instead the venues must reinvest the savings back into the casinos through marketing, capital expenditures and relieving debt services to help minimize the negative impact of out- of- state competition.
"A lot has changed since we first set the revenue sharing model, which is why we are pleading with the Legislature to change it so that we can get some relief," Mr. Sutor said.
He said because the Maryland Live! Casino is not yet operational, and because the Delaware Legislature has yet to discuss or vote on the proposed Gaming Competitiveness Act of 2012, the council will not know the full impact on Delaware's gaming industry until its next meeting on July 10 in the Silver Lake Room at Dover Downs.
"We can plan internally, but there will be nothing concrete until the bill is passed and we know the (Maryland casino) impact," said Vernon Kirk, director of the Delaware State Lottery.
Staff writer Jamie-Leigh Bissett can be reached at 741-8250 or firstname.lastname@example.org