The Berlin Town Council recently approved a plan whereby casino tax revenue will be used, among other things, to fund police officer pensions. The plan calls for a portion of the money the small town receives for housing Ocean Downs Casino to go toward police pensions this year and for the next three years.
During discussions to approve the plan, members of the Local Development Council pointed out that casino funds had never been used to fund state employee pensions. They were concerned that if Ocean Downs closed, the town wouldn’t be able to fund the pensions.
It was agreed the Town Council would submit an alternative plan that weans off the town from using the funds for pensions to the Local Development Council by January.
At the Town Council’s most recent meeting, however, the issue was tabled after a brief discussion.
Council decides to wait on presenting an alternative plan for now
All the towns and cities that house Maryland casinos receive a portion of casino revenue through Local Impact Grants (LIG). Cities can use the funds however they want, though, most use them to fund infrastructure or services.
Using LIG money to fund the Law Enforcement Officers Pension System (LEOPS) was approved by the Berlin Town Council in late October. Berlin Mayor Zack Tyndall defended the decision a couple weeks later.
“Public safety is crucial to us. If you are not safe, if you are not healthy, then you cannot have an active commerce.”
LEOPS also fund pensions for EMS and fire department employees, along with other town needs.
Despite the Local Development Council (LDC) requesting a plan by next month, Tyndall said during the last council meeting on Nov. 27 that he was in favor of waiting to send a letter. Because the budget plan to use the casino funds for LEOPS was approved through 2026, he felt there was no hurry to present an alternative plan.
There also seemed to be some confusion over what precisely the LDC wants from council, councilmember Dean Burrell said.
Ocean Downs reported $7.1M revenue in November
Berlin looks to spend $425,000 for the LEOPS Stabilization Fund this fiscal year, $340,000 for LEOPS in FY2024, $350,000 for FY2025 and $360,000 in FY2026. The city also intends to spend $45,000 to upgrade equipment for the Berlin Fire Company. Additional funds totaling $174,000 will be used on a new community center.
Ocean Downs Casino is located adjacent to a historic horse racetrack that dates back to the 1940s. The casino boasts 80,000 square feet of gaming floor, approximately 850 slot machines, 18 table games and a retail sportsbook, Ocean Downs Casino’s TwinSpires Sportsbook.
In November, the casino generated revenue around $7.1 million.
In 2022, casinos in Maryland reported revenue of $169 million, and $70.8 million was paid in taxes. Much of that went to the education fund, but a portion was allotted to the communities that host casinos.