Vol. 10, No. 51

December 19-25, 2002

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Ho-Ho-Ho: Santa and Slot Machines

Is it just us, or do gambling and slot machines dominate every news item about Maryland’s future?

Up front, we’re not gambling opponents. We said as much a decade ago in our first editorials and we’re not about to launch an anti-gambling crusade now — despite our ambivalence.

We’ve got our reasons. For one thing, it’s never prudent to plop down on the track when the train is barreling your way. For another, there’s gambling in virtually every direction you look, including the Internet.

But we do think it appropriate from time to time to put gambling in its proper context. And that includes pointing out the political sins that accompany it, including hypocrisy.

For a decade, Maryland’s Democratic Party and its key leaders have disparaged gambling and told us all about its evils. Then presto, the Maryland Democratic Party chairman, Wayne Rogers, shows up on the payroll of a casino operator jockeying to locate at the Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George’s County. Once the news hit the streets, that alliance cost him his party job.

In Maryland and elsewhere, the mission of the Democratic Party in the aftermath of the GOP’s November steamroller is to persuade people that the party is a relevant force and a real champion of working people.

It’s hard to see how working for casinos sends the message the Democratic Party wants people to hear.

We’re also a bit tired of hearing how gambling is the cure-all to Maryland’s ills. Gov.-elect Robert Ehrlich said in his successful campaign that allowing gambling operations at four racetracks could raise as much as $800 million annually for the state.

That’s real money. But it won’t start flowing any time soon, and the payoff may never be that rich. Before we find out, Maryland must make some critical spending decisions on pay hikes for state workers, land preservation and a host of other thorny issues.

We think it’s important to keep in mind that gambling, for all its potential bounty, doesn’t create anything. It doesn’t produce any signature products that Marylanders can be proud of or breed the wholesomeness that is connected to Chesapeake Bay and our natural resources.

So let’s not get carried away in trumpeting its arrival. If gambling is coming to Maryland — and that’s probably a foregone conclusion — let’s do our best to build barriers to the evils that often accompany it. And while we’re at it, let’s make certain that Marylanders, not the industry, get the biggest share of the take.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly