Volume 15, Issue 7 ~ February 15 - February 21, 2007


Boatloads of Trouble Floating Our Way?

Was it just us, or did you think that the days of the General Assembly’s Great Gambling Debate were behind us?

That still may be the case. But there’s a revival of riverboat gambling talk with senate legislation proposing more than 15,000 slots on 16 boats. Will it float? Too early to say, but we’d like to inject a cautionary note into this debate.

First, we’re not among those who decry gambling on moral grounds. We’re more troubled by the excesses of the gambling debate itself, the palm-greasing money passed around and the energy and time that could be devoted to pressing matters like healthcare costs and growth management.

We admit to having been drawn in in the past by the allure of cruising big waters in a sternwheeler or paddleboat. Who needs to gamble! You could just sit back and gaze at the passing bluffs and floodplains, maybe even pull out a copy of Huck Finn.

Don’t hunt up your Mark Twain yet. A trick we’ve observed is orchestrating “riverboat gambling” on vessels that never leave the dock. If there is a dock.

That’s the case in Mississippi, where gambling is credited with reviving the poorest counties. Casino boats must be permanently docked. They’re not even boats but casinos built on barges connected to land by gangplanks.

Then there’s Missouri’s riverboat gambling. Here, too, you don’t have to worry about running aground or getting lost in the fog. For gambling vessels in the Show Me state don’t have motors. Nor must they be real boats, either, or even sit in a waterway. Just along one.

Our point is that when gambling bills start to float, the Gucci-shoed casino boys show up with bags of political money and the deviousness begins.

There’s already a gambling-friendly segment in the General Assembly and budgetary needs aplenty. There are ready-made constituencies who would listen to a plan to share proceeds with schools and the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund.

From what we’ve read thus far, House Speaker Michael Busch, an Annapolis Democrat, the obstacle to race-track slots in recent sessions, has not raised the gangway to betting on boats.

Would Maryland end up with a riverboat gambling law with loopholes big enough to float a tanker through? Our advice: Let’s not find out.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.