The town of Berlin is benefitting from calling itself the home of Ocean Downs Casino in more ways than one.
A vote from Berlin’s Town Council last week approved a multi-year spending plan concerning tax revenue from the casino. It will contribute to immediate causes through the Local Impact Grant, most notably funding pensions of the police officers.
Ocean Downs Casino generated $4.9M LIG funds in FY 2023
While momentum grows for Maryland online casinos to become legal in 2024, its six retail venues have become an integral revenue source for the state. They generated over $848 million in state taxes in Fiscal Year 2023 (from $2.06 billion in revenue), with over $100 million going to Local Impact Grants (LIGs) and aid in casinos’ communities.
Ocean Downs Casino holds a single-digit market share, returning smaller LIG amounts than casinos like MGM National Harbor, Live! Casino and Hotel and Horseshoe Baltimore. Berlin (population 5,026) and Worcester County are also much smaller than the major metropolitan areas of Maryland’s three largest casinos.
In FY 2023, Ocean Downs generated $4.9 million in LIG funds. These funds go to the county, and Berlin receives a portion. It uses its share primarily for “public safety” purposes.
Its main objective from the recent vote was to create a $425,000 Law Enforcement Officers Pension System (LEOPS) stabilization fund. Additional funding will come based on future fiscal years’ projections:
- FY 2024: $340,000
- FY 2025: $350,000
- FY 2026: $360,000
The LEOPS makes up the majority of Berlin’s LIG allocation. A memo to the county from the mayor and council said,
“Due to the uncertainty of our current economic environment, the town of Berlin is reducing our LIG revenue projections to $420,000 for Fiscal 2024, Fiscal 2025 and Fiscal 2026. If LIG revenue exceeds projections, any changes to expenditures will be reflected on the town of Berlin’s LIG expenditure report provided to the Worcester County Local Development Council each year.”
More productive uses for LIG funds
Berlin’s spending plan accounts for LEOPS funding and then some. Even with reduced future LIG projections, it will have at least $60K to $80K left over.
These remaining funds go into the unassigned funds category. Berlin plans to use an additional $220,000 to support a new community center ($175K) and create an ambulance replacement fund ($45K) from the money it has.
Future unassigned funds can be used for a wide range of improvements, including:
- Economic and community development
- Other public services and improvements
Ocean Downs carves out a successful niche
Ocean Downs is the only one of Maryland’s six casinos with a horse racing track.
Horse racing revenue has fallen steadily through the years at all five horse tracks in The Old Line State, causing esteemed facilities like Pimlico Race Course to struggle financially.
Ocean Downs’ owner, Churchill Downs Inc., shut down its mobile wagering operations before Maryland online sports betting went live. However, its retail TwinSpires Sportsbook has picked up the slack from horse racing declines.
Despite not having the nationwide presence of some industry giants, the TwinSpires Sportsbook ranked fourth in the state for retail sports betting handle in September. Maryland has 13 retail sportsbooks, three of which have opened since the end of August.
Ocean Downs’ $1.4 million handle was behind only MGM National Harbor (BetMGM Sportsbook Maryland), Maryland! Live Casino (FanDuel Sportsbook Maryland) and Horseshoe Baltimore (Caesars Sportsbook Maryland). It accepted $34K more in wagers than Bingo World (BetRivers Maryland) but had $20K less in revenue, putting it fifth in that category.
Of course, Ocean Downs’ primary revenue generator is its casino. In September, the casino generated $8.7 million in revenue, with over $7.9 million from slot machines. Table games brought in the remaining $822K.
Through September, Ocean Downs has generated $75.8 million in casino revenue ($68.2 million from slots and $7.6 million from table games). It has contributed around $30 million to state programs like the Education Trust Fund and LIG and to support small, minority and women-owned businesses.