It was the most financed campaign in Maryland election history as opponents and proponents spent $35.7 million on Question 7, which would allow a Prince George’s County Casino and the addition of table games at all Maryland casinos. Whether you supported the bill or not, it has passed and that means Baltimore’s casino on Russell Street south of the stadiums will include table games when it opens in 2014. Caesars Entertainment is about to break ground on a new casino in South Baltimore, so let’s take a look at the impact the passing of Question 7 will have on the city and the surrounding area.
The first major change will be the actual branding of the casino. Long proposed as Harrah’s Baltimore, Caesars President John Payne has promised to brand the casino under the Horseshoe brand – their higher-end brand – if Question 7 passed. They have also promised investing $25 million more into the casino (bringing the total to $400 million) and building a larger special events space which could include boxing and MMA and more restaurants. They also promised bringing the World Series of Poker to Baltimore and hiring an additional 500 people.
Under the new laws in Question 7, Horseshoe Baltimore, as well as every other casino in Maryland, will be open 24 hours a day. Maryland casinos are currently only allowed to stay upon till 2am on weeknights and 4am on weekends. With the large crowd that nearby Federal Hill already attracts, this could be a popular late night destination.
A term that is thrown out a lot when it comes to casinos is the term “slots barn,” which refers to a low budget, low frills casino thrown up quickly to make money off slots. Whether the Baltimore facility would have fit that description was certainly up for discussion, but there is no doubt at this point that it will be a higher-end facility. When Question 7 passed there was an immediate buzz on Twitter and Facebook showing the excitement of many people who said they’ll get to play poker and blackjack in Maryland.
Slots are often looked at as the choice of the older crowd, but there is no denying that table games are much more popular with the younger and more affluent crowd, which is a huge population in the area with SoBo, Federal Hill, Ridgely’s Delight, Riverside, Otterbein, Barre Circle and Pigtown all within walking distance to the facility and the downtown hotels and convention center just two light rail stops away. “Table games tend to bring a more affluent customer base to the development, which means you get all the spinoff businesses like the Ruth Chris Steakhouses and the nice stores. It will make the entire project a better project for the neighborhood and the area,” District 46 Senator Bill Ferguson told SouthBMore.com.
The more successful Horseshoe Baltimore is, the more money that will be flowing into the neighborhoods surrounding the casino as $.05 of every dollar lost in a slot machine will go towards local impact funds which is projected at $18 million per year (grain of salt). The allocation of the local impact funds will be decided by a committee which includes Wesport, Pigtown, SBNA, Sharp Leadenhall, Federal Hill and Federal Hill West and Riverside and Federal Hill South will have an advisory role. The committee will also feature two legislators who are likely to be Senator Bill Ferguson and one of the three delegates from the area, plus the council person for the area where the casino is located, Ed Reisinger.
“For the first few years the local impact funds will be focused on capital and infrastructure projects that are dealing with the spill-off effects of this new development which include increased traffic and foot traffic, as well making sure the area is secure and safe,” said Ferguson. “Initially I think we’ll see the bulk of money going towards infrastructure. Outside of that, there is just so much possibility for what we can do. We have so many communities that are really looking to see better options for kids which includes youth centers, youth programming, sport leagues and extracurriculars. This is a chance to invest in programs that will help to keep families living and thriving in the city.”
$.05 of every dollar lost on table games will also be spent on Baltimore City School construction and recreation and parks. It is projected that Baltimore City Public Schools need $2.5 billion in improvements. The money could also go to rec centers which are attached to many schools.
Another interesting thing to watch will be the development of the area Horseshoe sits on, which was once branded Gateway South. When I take people by the site of the casino, they often say, “They are putting it here, there is nothing down here.” This presents the opportunity to revitalize a rundown section of town right near the stadiums which are highly visible as you enter Baltimore on 295. It also allows the opportunity to keep the noise and entertainment element of this facility in an area separated from any current housing.
The casino will be constructed on the large vacant lot between Russell and Warner and all of the vacant buildings on Warner St. will be used for the parking garage and outdoor entertainment space. This area located between Russell St., M&T Bank Stadium and the Gwynns Falls Trail is currently also home to a Holiday Inn Express, the Greyhound station, (which is about to undergo new $4.1 million dollar renovation), Grainger and Public Storage.
That leaves several vacant or underutilized building that could be hot for redevelopment including 1400 Warner St. which is the current home to the Bud Light Gameday Warehouse, a bar in a three-story building only open during Ravens home games and several other events, and the attached building which was the former home of the Second Chance antiques building. There are also two buildings at the southeast and southwest corners of Warner St. and Ostend St. All of these properties have been mentioned as potential urban mixed use development sites on the Ceasars website. I’m hearing from several developers that the brick building on the southwestern corner is a hot commodity and we’ll see about the other.
There are several other warehouses in the area as you go down Ostend St. in either direction and one in particular is a long vacant three-story building stuck in between 395, Ostend St. and Howard St. Expect to see a rush to buy up many of these building as investors look to put their stamp on this new entertainment district – there has already been reports of Hammerjacks looking to make at comeback in this area. We will see if this projected momentum trickles into any of the warehouses in Federal Hill West/Sharp Leadenhall or the Carrol Camden Industrial Park across Russell Street.
Though the casino was coming regardless, there should really be an increase in foot traffic, local impact funds for the area and area development with the passing of Question 7. “It really helps to make Baltimore a destination location. It gives another tool in the toolbox that we can help to market Baltimore as a place that is great to visit, great to stay and even better to live. There is an opportunity to bring in bigger conventions, which means more hotel tax, and more people who are coming in and seeing the great city that we have here. It helps to change the perception of Baltimore,” said Ferguson.
A look at the area which runs from Russell St. to the West, the Gwynn Falls Trail to the East and South and Ostend St. to the North:
Sit Down with Senator Ferguson about the Casino and Queston 7