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As Long as We Remember...

February 17, 2003

Slots Are Okay, But With A Caution!

Al Duke

Gambling is a pretty standard human activity across most societies, locales and times. Horse races, draws of the cards, sports and many other events are now and have been the occasion of wagers.

In Frederick County today we have bingo at fire halls and at churches, and tip jars are everywhere, not to mention MegaMillions and the Lotto. So I donít see a problem with adding another method of losing your money to the long list that currently exists in the mid-Atlantic region.

Slot machines are just another method of separating money from its owner. Now this is not to say that I donít on occasion put some money on a bet of one sort or another. I like the dreamy lack of focus when I think of winning multi-millions on one of the state-sponsored lotteries, but I only put a dollar on it. I enjoy putting a couple of bucks on a horse when I go to the track, but I would rather bet on an 80-1 venture and lose than bet $2 on a favorite and win $3.40.

Many years ago I attended the Computer Dealers Expo in Las Vegas as an exhibitor to tout certain computer security products. One evening the group decided to go to a particular gambling house for a while and then go to dinner. Honest to goodness, I could not believe it. We could not find any open slot machines. And this was a fairly large operation. Hundreds of people focused on rotating dials and putting in money and pulling down the arm, with the occasional Pavlovian ringing of the bells. So, we just went to dinner.

The point I am making with these anecdotes is that gambling is a nice occasional entertainment, but, as with anything, people will abuse it, and so care must be taken by the state in establishing this new program.

The caution I want to discuss is the reason for slots to begin with. The State of Maryland is a billion something dollars in a budget deficit. The revenue from slot machines will help balance the budget. There are two reasons the state is in deficit Ė too much spending and an economic downturn (too little revenue).

So, what I foresee is that the revenue from slots will assist greatly in balancing the current and immediate future budgets. Eventually the economy will improve and the budget will run very large surpluses. Our beloved Annapoliticians will then react in one of two ways. They will either spend the surplus on new programs or cut the income tax some more. Probably both.

And then in due course the economy will turn south again and lead the state into new deficit doldrums. What will be the cry then? "Casinos!" "New lottery games!" "Raise the sales tax!"

Every person who pays attention knows about these revenue peaks and valleys and the corresponding surpluses and deficits. Leaders in Annapolis need to practice better monetary stewardship and save during the years of plenty so that resources will be available in the years of famine.

Until that happens, enjoy the slots, and the casinos.

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