Casinos are certainly in the business of making money. However, part of a balanced public policy in allowing legalized gaming is a financial return to the community.
In the case of Live! Casino and Hotel, the most recent return to the community -- $19.6 million -- was celebrated Nov. 9 with the formal award of local impact and community support grants to about 30 Anne Arundel County organizations.
The $19.6 million for fiscal year 2018 was a record for casino-generated money distributed by the Anne Arundel County Local Development Council, the group that advises the county executive on the expenditure of casino funds. The money is used by agencies and groups for a range of community needs, including public safety, education, parks, housing and transportation.
"This is our company's favorite day of the year every year," said Joe Weinberg, managing partner of the Cordish Companies that owns the Live! Casino & Hotel in Hanover, Md.
The recent $19.6 million in grant money puts the casino over $100 million in grant money that's been passed from the casino since it opened in 2012, Weinberg said.
"So when we have this ability to sit back and reflect on what's been generated by this one facility, from the over 4,000 employees we have here at Live! Casino & Hotel who are here every day showing a great time to the people who visit the county and the facility, it's a very meaningful day for us."
Weinberg noted that the grant money is just a part of the casino's contribution to the public at large. The Live! casino has generated $1.5 billion in taxes during the last five years with $1.2 billion going toward education, he noted. The casino industry as a whole in Maryland – there are now six casinos in the state from small ones to quite large -- has generated $2.7 billion in taxes since the first slots were switched on in 2010.
Among the recipients of grant money announced Nov. 9, the Anne Arundel County Fire Department was awarded the largest amount, nearly $6.4 million. The recipient of the second-largest amount was the Anne Arundel County Police Department, more than $3.68 million.
Other county organizations receiving seven-figure grants were public works/planning and zoning; recreation and parks; the community college and the library system. Groups receiving smaller amounts ranged from homeowners associations to museums to youth organizations.
A recipient of a $500,000 grant was the Fort Meade Alliance Foundation. The Foundation plans to use the money to help complete a $3.6 million renovation of Kuhn Hall, a building at the Fort Meade military installation.
The alliance supports the work and the people, both military and civilian, at and around Fort Meade.
Among the alliance's current goals is to facilitate connection to programs that would be helpful to the greater Fort Meade community -- such as behavioral health or financial support or spiritual counseling or physical therapy -- that already exist whether on the post or in the nearby community, according to foundation president Deon Viergutz. A mechanism to connect those programs is currently lacking, he said.
That's where a renovated Kuhn Hall comes in.
The foundation plans "to take [Kuhn Hall], gut it out, retrofit it, we're going to give it back to the Army, the Army will operate it to provide a central place for all of those services," Viergutz said. "So people can go [there] as a one-stop [source], 'That's my gate, that's my door.'"
Meanwhile, Maryland State Sen. Ed DeGrange (D.-Anne Arundel) said that the money being passed to county agencies and worthy nonprofit community groups was an important fulfillment of the deal government strikes when it legalizes gaming.
"It was quite an ordeal to get that through," DeGrange said of legislation that eventually led to casinos in Maryland.
"And it's done everything we had hoped for. The monies that are coming in to generate income for the county, for the state, the jobs it's created here, it's all come about. And especially that money that has gone to the Local Development Councils, which was part of the [gaming] legislation … that was a promise that was made and that's a promise that was certainly kept."
Photo: County Executive Steve Schuh, Joe Weinberg, Deon Viergutz of Fort Meade Alliance, Karen McJunkin, Sen. Ed DeGrange (Courtesy of Stanton Communications, Inc.)