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October 31, 2008

Just Say “NO” to Slots

Kevin E. Dayhoff

There are two constitutional questions on the ballot next Tuesday. I will be voting “NO” on both. Question 2 will amend the state constitution to allow slots. Question 1 would amend the Maryland Constitution to allow early voting in Maryland.


In an earlier column I explained why I feel strongly that early voting in Maryland is not such a hot idea.


Question 2 is not nearly so black and white. I have a good number of well-intentioned and thoughtful friends and colleagues who are voting for slots, and almost an equal number of people who are just as responsible and well informed and are voting against slots.


After a great deal of thought, study, and research, I will be voting “NO.”


In spite of personal reservations about slots, I believe that I could’ve supported some of the formulations offering slots in Maryland under the previous administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.


A recent editorial in The Cecil Whig said it best: “Despite its inarguable validity, voters held strictly to the moral issue regarding slots and gambling will not prevail. The pervasiveness of gaming and gambling in Maryland by those who want to enjoy “harmless entertainment” outweighs the moral vote.


I happen to be old enough to remember slots and members of my family viewed them as harmless entertainment – and by and large – it was just that.


Slot machines existed in Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s counties from 1949 to 1968.


According to an October 18 article by Beth Ward for The Carroll County Times, it was in 1963 that “then-Gov. J. Millard Tawes was successful in getting legislation passed to phase out slot machines over five years. That same year, the almost 5,000 slot machines in operation in the four counties brought in about $1.7 million, according to a Slot Machine Study Committee report completed January 1963.”


I never saw the ills that slots created for society; and yet, as I grew older, I began to see that slots are a huge potential for harm to the fabric of the community.


Still yet, what problems slots and gambling create are already in Maryland. During the previous administration, I happened to be in Delaware on a business trip. I took the opportunity to visit one of the casinos and I was taken aback at the number of Maryland license tags on the cars in the parking lot.


From anecdotal press accounts, and what I saw, Marylanders are already gambling in Delaware and other nearby states, and, if it is causing problems, they are certainly bringing those problems home.


I have read that a recent University of Maryland study estimates that “the costs of alcoholism, gambling addiction and bankruptcies resulting from slots could total $228 million to $628 million annually.”


Nevertheless, my analysis of the earlier proposals during the Ehrlich administration had more benefits than harm. The current proposal is not very attractive in that there is not enough upside to the proposal to overcome the downside.


Not to be overlooked is that the current interest in slots by the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley smells of ugly partisan politics. This is the same former Baltimore Mayor O’Malley who criticized slots during the administration of Governor Ehrlich and during their election contest.


Moreover, the current proposal puts slots in the Maryland Constitution where it does not belong. It appears that little of the revenue will go to help agriculture, or more specifically, the horse industry; and way too little goes to local government.


Putting slots in the Maryland Constitution makes absolutely no sense from a political science – or good governance – point of view.


A position paper from Anthony J. O’Donnell – House of Delegates Republican leader, and Christopher B. Shank, House of Delegates Republican whip – states the obvious:


“Once authorized, any changes to the slots program will require a constitutional amendment. There will be no way to address unforeseen problems that require changes, such as a problem with a particular location, until an election year when the citizens can vote to approve the changes.”


As if that is not enough of a problem, The Cecil Whig calls to our attention that the “referendum is designed to benefit citizens by providing some tax relief, but there is no guarantee.”


Maryland state government already has a pathological spending addiction and the current slots referendum only fuels the problem.


And there’s the rub. I cannot say it better than The Cecil Whig: “The people (who) are now trying to sell you slots are the same people (who) passed the largest tax increase in Maryland's history and said that it would solve our fiscal problems. They are the same people who said that there wouldn't be a BG&E rate hike…


“If you believe the General Assembly will use the revenue generated from slots wisely, to lower taxes and control further spending, then we recommend you vote for it.


“But if you are concerned that legislators will waste the revenue from slots and citizens will not benefit with tax decreases and spending will again outpace tax revenues, then we recommend you vote against the referendum.”


In the words of Delegates O’Donnell and Shank: “There is no need to authorize slot machines with a constitutional amendment, and failure of this amendment does not mean that the General Assembly cannot come back in January and authorize a slot machine plan that benefits all of Maryland.”


And that is exactly what Maryland ought to do; reject this plan and if slots are a necessary part of Maryland’s fiscal future, pass a better plan in the General Assembly that has – for example – an increased dedicated revenue stream for local municipal and county government, and agriculture.


Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster: E-mail him at:


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