Cumberland Times-News

December 26, 2013

Liquor, convenience stores hardest hit by paper gaming decline

County is reallocating some funds from Rocky Gap casino to make up for losses

Matthew Bieniek
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — The overall decline in paper gaming in Allegany County is being felt most strongly by liquor stores and convenience stores, where sales are falling off rapidly. County officials have said it’s too early to tell whether the new casino is having an impact. And the most recent figures available are for the fiscal year ending in June.

The decline has been slow but sure for several years, county officials have said. Last year, though, a 30 percent drop in sales at liquor stores looks more like a drop off a cliff.

While last year’s overall decline was 11 percent, at liquor stores revenues were down $396,405 for a total of $919,904. For the 2012 fiscal year, liquor store revenues were $1,316,309.

“Slowly but surely people are going out there (Rocky Gap Casino Resort). ... They can sit there and play the quarter machines and have a drink,” said Connie Wessel, the owner of South Cumberland Liquors. But Wessel hasn’t given up on the pull-tab games she offers. “It’s still good business,” Wessel said, and she says she appreciates the regular players.

While the official figures recently released by the county cover barely two months of the operation at Rocky Gap Casino Resort, at least one local liquor store owner has no doubt on the matter.

The owner placed the blame squarely on the casino. “It’s bottomed out. ... It’s not too early to tell (the impact of the casino),” said the owner of a local store who did not want to be identified by the Times-News. The owner also said sales of Maryland lottery tickets have fallen off dramatically since the casino opened in May. County officials have said a few months of data is not enough to gauge the impact of the casino.

Things are almost as bad for convenience stores that offer paper gaming. “Revenues were down $87,773 or a decline of 24 percent ending with a total of $277,344,” a county gaming report just issued states.

For fiscal 2012, the total convenience store revenue was $365,117.

The drop has not affected private nonprofit clubs as much.

“The nonprofits are holding their own,” said County Finance Director Jason Bennett last week.

Club revenues were down $402,276, or a decline of 4 percent, ending with a total of $8,901,072, the county report said.

The paper games at liquor stores, not-for-profit clubs and convenience stores are regulated and taxed by the county. Allegany and Washington counties are the only two counties in the state that have legally regulated paper gaming. The paper gaming revenue comes from tip jars, pull-tabs and similar games in the nonprofit clubs and for-profit taverns, liquor stores and convenience stores.

The county is reallocating some of the funds coming in from the casino to make up for the losses to Allegany County fire and rescue departments and capital projects for the board of education. The fire and rescue companies and the board are the main beneficiaries of the county paper gaming tax revenue.

 Bennett said county tax revenue for the 2013 fiscal year from paper gaming was projected at $419,000. The actual revenue turned out to be $373,000, Bennett said. “This is a continuing trend for us,” Bennett said.

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com.