Volume 13, Issue 9 ~ March 3 - 9, 2005
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Decision Time For Gambling in Maryland

The hog is in the tunnel.

That was a favorite phrase of Gonzo pioneer and philosopher Hunter S. Thompson, who checked out prematurely from his fortified Owl Farm in Woody Creek, Colo., last week.

Thompson’s words would have special application just now in the Maryland General Assembly, where the fate of slots, which has dominated the agenda for two years, soon will be known.

It can also be argued that the heavy presence of gambling interests and well-fed Marylanders poised to profit lends a porcine flavor to the debate.

In case you’ve gotten bored with this show, here’s the short version of where we are: the Senate and the House have passed gambling bills, albeit different versions, allowing slot machines in various spots in Maryland.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich, a Republican, and Senate President Mike Miller, a Democrat, have a strange-bedfellows alliance in favor of slots.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Michael Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat, let a slots bill out of the House even though he is wary of gambling and might yet blow up any Senate-House compromise.

What do we think? We’re not inclined at this late date to worry about the morality of gambling. It does nothing for society, stunts personal growth and falls as a regressive tax on those who can least afford it.

But people have been gambling since Adam laid 3-1 that Abel would turn out to be a better son than Cain. So forgive us for not staying on the high horse.

At this stage, we’re more attentive to the deceptions in a debate that has had more phases than the moon.

Once upon a time, we were told that slots were needed to rescue horse-racing in Maryland. If we could pass a bill, then we’d all pack picnics and watch Seabiscuit rise from the dead to race at beautifully restored tracks around the state.

More recently, we’ve heard that slots are needed to rescue Maryland’s schools. But didn’t Busch propose an alternative budget that would fully fund education and quicker?

Now we’ve come around the track to a new argument: Slots are needed to keep money from leaving Maryland to other betting arenas in other states.

Couldn’t we have just begun this epic drama by talking about money and greed?

Nor is it reassuring that we still don’t know how many gambling devices there would be, (9,500 in the House bill or 15,500 in the Senate plan), where in Maryland they would be fleecing bettors or who stands to benefit.

The hog is in the tunnel.

But 25 months after this debate began, we have no idea how it will be butchered. Or what cuts will be served to the public.
Perhaps, against the odds, it might even run back out of the tunnel.

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