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Volume 16, Issue 41 - October 9 - October 15, 2008
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The Slots Question

For a few quarters more, we can solve all our problems — Or can we?

This is just pure fun and enjoyment, but I’d sooner spend my money in Maryland.
–Cumberland retiree Pat Phillips as quoted in The Sun as she was playing slot machines across the state line in West Virginia.

Come Election Day next month, Ms. Phillips and millions of other Marylanders will learn whether they can conveniently make their donations to one-armed bandits within this state. On Election Day’s ballot is the big question for voters: Do we want to allow 15,000 slot machines set up and collecting cash in the Free State?

I’ve been following the issue in the daily press, and my gut feeling is this is a question that’s going right down to the wire, when the polls close on the evening of Nov. 4. To hear some voters talk, the slots issue is as important as the big question of the day: Who will be our next president.

It’s probably fitting that the question of slots is going to referendum, where all can cast a vote to decide an issue that has roiled controversy since Parris Glendening was governor. Even the wording of the ballot became an issue.

Methinks all the controversy boils down to a few bottom-line issues. Monies raised for education and horse racing via slots means less will have to come from elsewhere. It may save politicians from doing the politically onerous: raising taxes.

Maryland Plays Tout

That brings us down to some core philosophies: Do we want a government that is dependent on gambling to finance state programs? Our state laws prohibit you and me from playing poker, rolling dice, joining cash football pools and such. It’s not right for us, but the government can do it.

Consider the state lottery. It started as a chance to win a million bucks, which was big money at the time. Look at what it has become. There are all kinds of scratch-offs that go far beyond the original buck a ticket. There are the likes of Megabucks that promise millions upon millions, there are the instant winners in Keno to the tune of thousands. And there is the state spending big money to urge you and me to throw away our money to enrich state coffers.

Is that the way a state should raise a substantial part of its funding? Is it not morally questionable, seeing that the state considers gambling sinful — unless the government has its hand in the pie? For years, our police spent countless hours chasing down ma, pa and bigger operators who sold numbers on the street. Playing the numbers was called a scourge of the poor and the vulnerable. It had to be stopped.

I wonder how much more cash is lost among the vulnerable in our current lottery system than buying those old numbers slips.

We already have more legal lottery options than we can count, millions upon millions are pouring into state coffers. We now depend on lottery revenues in great part to balance the budget. Yet here we are asking for 15,000 slot machines to make it more convenient for our citizens to gamble away their funds.

When Will We Learn

Slots are more addictive than scratch-offs and lotteries. The mesmerized player dumping money into a one-armed bandit is swept along with the action. There is always the chance the next coin or bill deposited could mean a jackpot, wiping out the losses and maybe bringing in some pocket money. So they keep paying and playing.

Often, they can’t stop until their pockets are empty. From where will the funds come for groceries, clothes for the kids, rent, car payments and such?

Yet here we are making the big move to make slots more convenient so other states won’t get our gambling bucks. Methinks we’d be better off to let those other states continue to reap the slots moola — also all the sleaziness, politicking and conniving associated with such one-way gambling.

Don’t give me the pitch that slots could save the Thoroughbred industry. Sure it’s a treasured Maryland tradition. But if its survival is dependent on slots, is it worth saving? Why should we be subsidizing them? There are so many other programs that can better use the funding.

It isn’t easy to knock funding for education, but there is a basis for doing so. We try to raise our kids with an appreciation for values and responsibility. Yet here we are telling them that we (and later, they) must resort to slots to support our schools. We aren’t willing or able to pay the fare via the clean and traditional route. Moreover, if it turns out like the lottery, we’ll have the state promoting slots like carnival barkers. Is that the message we want to send to our kids?

Enough said.


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