Slots and The Second Debate
Lots of debate, discussion, and focus on politics in the last few weeks is responsible for a swirling mix of thoughts.
My day starts with Bob Miller, WFMD's Morning Mayor. On a recent broadcast, a Frederick-area accountant announced that he had started a county version of the Stop Slots Maryland movement.
The gent, Greg Barford, explained that he and his group were beginning a door-to-door canvas of the county to expose the dangers of slots to unsuspecting residents. At this point, I'd be shocked that there were many unsuspecting residents, though. Most people already know about – and have opinions on – the whole slots question.
Mr. Barford has some very strong feelings. He can recite the evils of gaming expansion like a political pro, talking about gambling addiction, wealth enhancement for venue owners, manipulation of the poor, and a general decline in civic health.
Some of his statistical evidence is suspect, and a check with local public administrators and law enforcement agencies in Delaware and West Virginia indicate a dispute with his claims about social and economic impact. Slots opponents are quick to cite Atlantic City as an example of the clash of social interests, with the area around the famed Boardwalk grand and flashy, and the surrounding neighborhoods reflecting decline and desperation.
As a child, I spent many summers in southern New Jersey, in the borough of Stone Harbor. Long before the days of legal gambling, my family visited Atlantic City to stroll along the Steel Pier, take in the shows, ride the amusements, and watch the famous diving horse. Even then, there were whole sections of Atlantic City that visitors would avoid; urban decline is not necessarily a function of gambling.
Unfortunately, the decline in Atlantic City began long before the slots came to town. One could make a legitimate argument that at least the casinos have allowed the beachside resort to offer some reason for people to visit! The same is simply not true in Dover or Harrington, Delaware, or even in our neighboring Charles Town, West Virginia.
None of this is a game-changer, though. These are legitimate differences of opinion, and a little political spin helps sell one side or the other. Mr. Barford is as good at this as anyone. A more recent development is more troubling, though.
On WFMD's airwaves, the aforementioned Mr. Barford explained that the passage of a statewide referendum would inevitably lead to slot machines in Frederick County. I'm reminded of the big bluff in Liar's Poker, calling it a bluff allows you to avoid being called liar.
What Mr. Barford, and the other slots opponents are conveniently leaving out of their discussion, is the fact that the passage of a referendum on slot machine gambling means that only “You” can prevent an expansion of gambling.
If the ballot question were to pass, it would take another constitutional amendment to add machines, locations, or to alter any other aspect of the program. The opponents used this as a reason to oppose the bill during the Special Session last fall, but the simple fact is that this mechanism at least gives Maryland citizens the chance to accept or reject changes in the shape and form of legal gaming.
It would be nice if the opponents would also explain that, but I wouldn't bet on it!
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At the federal level, another segment of Wednesday’s Morning News Express program focused on the second presidential debate. Bob Miller's listeners are typically more conservative, mostly Republican, and generally sour on the prospect of a Barack Obama presidency.
During the debate, Senator John McCain tried to press the question of Senator Obama's fitness for the presidency. It sometimes appears as though Mr. McCain is almost beside himself with frustration, unable to convince American voters of what seems patently obvious to him; the question of Obama's core competencies.
In what seemed like an attempt to out-maneuver the Democratic Party on the question of giving people what they think they want, Senator McCain unveiled his newest proposal, a $300 billion program whereby the federal government would assume home loans in arrears and refinance those loans at the new, lower home value.
We are already painfully aware of the $750 billion "rescue" of the financial services sector, and the fact that this program is not guaranteed to actually fix the mess we find ourselves in. Adding another $300 billion might make some people feel better, but it won't fix the underlying problem.
What happened to the Grand Old Party's image as the party of personal responsibility? These were the guys who used to say that if you got yourself in a pickle; it was your obligation to un-pickle!
Now we'll have a federal government agency trying to negotiate thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of individuals' past due mortgages, using tax dollars to eat the difference between the purchased loan value past due and the newly negotiated loan rate based on the dramatically lower home value.
And this comes from a fiscally conservative Republican?