Real impact of Maryland casinos should be warning for Florida

Sam Skolnik, a reporter for City Paper in Baltimore, who admits to having a gambling addiction, writes an honest and gritty look at impacts casinos have had on the Baltimore community five years after they opened.

Skolnik cites job numbers and dollars to education in the state, but looks at larger societal costs of crime, addiction, and financial crises facing many who can least afford it.

Betting the House: Five years later, Maryland’s casinos have left addiction, crime, and half-filled promises in their wake

Sam Skolnik
August 11, 2015

By the time Jim Calabrese moved to Maryland in 2001, gambling had already taken a huge toll. The hours he spent and the money he lost playing the slots and video poker caused his wife to leave him with the couple’s three daughters in tow. She left “entirely because of the gambling,” he said. Not to mention, he also narrowly escaped criminal prosecution after stealing thousands of dollars from his then-Las Vegas employer to feed his habit.

Calabrese got clean and stopped gambling after moving from Las Vegas back to his native Detroit in 1998. He immersed himself in the 12-step Gamblers Anonymous program and led a Saturday morning GA meeting which, after the introduction of three large casinos in Detroit over the following two years, grew from about 10 regular weekly members to between 45 and 60.

But he needed a new full-time job, and found it in Baltimore running an industrial laundry. Though it took him away from his family, Baltimore was perfect in another regard. “When I moved to Maryland, there was no gambling,” said Calabrese, a gregarious 59-year-old wearing a trim goatee, a dark blue polo shirt, and flip-flops during an interview. “That’s half the reason I moved here.”

Once in Baltimore, Calabrese largely continued to abstain from gambling. He slipped now and then, as many recovering gambling addicts do, by playing keno once in a local bar, for example, and by driving up to the Delaware Park casino a couple of times. But the amounts he lost were minimal, he said—”I didn’t think twice about it.”

Then casinos opened near his Maryland home, and Jim Calabrese’s world began to unravel.

Two years ago, he made a brief stop in the Hollywood Casino off I-95 in Perryville—the first modern-era casino to open in Maryland, in September 2010. Since then, he’s been gambling anywhere from two to four times per week, mostly at the sprawling Maryland Live Casino in Hanover, but also at the sleek, two-story Horseshoe Casino in southwest Baltimore, and in Perryville. He may not be gambling as exhaustively now as he did while he lived in Vegas—there, deep in the throes of his addiction, he’d make as many as three trips to casinos per day, starting before work, heading back out during lunch, and then going again after work—but the results have been similarly disastrous.

“I may not be as manic about going,” Calabrese said, “but I am as manic once I’m there.”