Slots are a gamble no matter how you play 'em

June 30, 2005, midnight | By Natasha Prados | 18 years, 9 months ago

Maryland should find other sources of revenue

As candidates gear up for the 2006 Maryland gubernatorial election, the introduction of slot machines appears to be the most controversial issue of the campaign. The issue divides the candidates for the Democratic nomination: Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, both of whom have taken a position different from that of incumbent Republican Governor Robert L. Ehrlich.

Ehrlich has pushed hard for slots in the legislative arena for the past three years. Maryland's projected deficit is $300-400 million for the year starting July 1, 2006, according to the Director of the Governor's Financial Administration Office, Robert A. Platky. Ehrlich supports slots as a source of revenue for the state budget and for education. On his website, Ehrlich argues that slots have been beneficial to other states, specifically citing Iowa, and that Maryland's experience with gambling in the form of the state lottery has been positive. Ehrlich also states that slots will revive the horse racing industry, keep "gambling dollars" from going to Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware, and boost tourism.

While slots would provide a sustainable source of income for the state, they are not worth the price. Slots create new jobs and revenues, but all in the gambling industry. Instead of looking to slots as an easy solution to budget problems, legislators need to work on real solutions for the economy in the form of spending cuts and tax increases.
Duncan is concerned about the consequences of bringing slots to Maryland. He fears that slots would marshal in an era where future Maryland children "sit in a cage, changing money for people," instead of working in lucrative fields such as science and technology, according to an article in The Washington Post. "I reject the notion that the only way to move this state forward…is to addict more people to gambling," Duncan is quoted as saying in an editorial in The Washington Post.

In a 2003 press release touting his slots plan, Ehrlich proposed to address gambling addictions caused by the legalization of slot machines by increasing funding for gambling addiction programs from the $20,000 spent in 2003 to $1.1 million once slots are implemented.

While the money spent on gambling addiction programs would be outweighed by profits from slots, the real problem is the moral admission presented by this proposal. The admission is that the government will be authorizing a practice which it knows will harm citizens. Not only that, the problem created for these citizens by the supposed solution to revenue problems will funnel money away from the purpose taxpayers approved it for in the first place.

Perhaps even more perturbing than what is represented by Ehrlich's proposal is O'Malley's stance. O'Malley calls slots a "morally bankrupt" method of funding public education, according to an editorial in The Washington Post. O'Malley seems morally opposed to slots, yet is content to implement them because he would "sure like to get this issue behind us," according to the same editorial. O'Malley has some redeeming positions — he doesn't want the government to become dependent on gambling money and wants to focus on issues other than slots. However, he is seemingly abandoning his values in favor of political gain, though O'Malley has denied trying to support slots legislation solely for political purposes. Nevertheless, it has served him well so far.

O'Malley is currently the favorite to win the Democratic nomination for the 2006 election, but that could change due in part to the slots issue. In a January poll conducted by Gonzales/Boyd political consulting and cited in an article in The Washington Post, 40 percent of Democratic primary voters said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who opposes slots, while 26 percent said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate in favor of slots and 34 percent said the issue made no difference. This could help Duncan in the Democratic primary, but some feel that being in favor of slots makes O'Malley a stronger candidate against Ehrlich overall.

But is adopting slots worth it?

Not if it means that Maryland will become a center for gambling instead of science and technology. Not at the cost of promoting gambling addiction.

Establishing slot machines may provide revenue, but it will not magically solve all of Maryland's budget problems. Instead of taking the easy way out, as many states have done, Maryland should take a stand for fiscal and social responsibility.

Natasha Prados. More »

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