Casino advisory panel keeping cards close to vest

 

Ed Sutor

DOVER — The group tasked with providing formal recommendations to the General Assembly on the state’s gambling industry met Tuesday for the first time this year.

The Video Lottery Advisory Council discussed the status of Delaware’s three casinos and hinted at what it might urge the lawmakers to do next year, but it will not compile a list of formal recommendations until the fall.

Dover Downs, the only public casino in Delaware, has seen its profits plummet over the past decade, although it still made $786,000 last year and $1.87 million in 2015.

It lost $706,000 in 2014, and $184,000 in the first three months of 2017.

Earnings for the second quarter of this year will be made public next week.

Two bills that would have provided significant relief — creating marketing and capital credits, eliminating the table game fee and lowering the table game tax rate — found little support in the General Assembly in 2015 and 2016.

Although casino supporters have said they believe lawmakers are sympathetic to the industry, a large budget hole meant there was no appetite for relief in the legislature earlier this year.

“We can’t give up, folks, and we can’t sit out another year of not doing anything,” Ed Sutor, president and CEO of Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, said Tuesday.

He hopes the council’s recommendations can be included in Gov. John Carney’s January budget proposal, increasing the likelihood of legislation being passed.

He declined to predict the likelihood of the governor urging lawmakers to pass a casino relief measure.

Those on the side of Delaware’s casinos argue the state is killing the proverbial golden goose by taxing the gambling establishments too much; opponents counter that casinos have had a monopoly for 20 years.

One minor change that could have a positive impact, Mr. Sutor said, is allowing the state’s casinos to operate on Christmas and Easter.

“We’re the only casinos in the country that shut down completely on Easter and Christmas,” he said. He said opening on those holidays would bring in an estimated $2.25 million.

The opening of MGM National Harbor in December led to other casinos in Maryland and West Virginia ramping up marketing efforts, in turn drawing some customers away from Delaware.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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