Vegas on the bay?

April 11, 1991

For the most part, Iowa is no policy-making mecca. In fact, it's a good bet that many people don't even know where Iowa is. Or didn't before last week. That's when news came that Iowa had launched up-scale replicas of old riverboats on the Mississippi -- complete with games of chance.

Suddenly, when the roulette wheels started spinning on the Mighty Miss, Marylanders looked West, and lottery officials here began wondering whether floating casinos might be a good idea on the Chesapeake Bay as well. We can say flatly, it isn't.

State-run gambling is nothing more than a back-door tax which, through the use of slick, targeted marketing, hits the hardest those who can least afford it. Even worse is that in the process of promoting such games, the state not only helps create gambling addicts but becomes addicted itself to gambling -- or at least the revenue from gambling. And enough never seems to be enough. Floating casinos would be the logical next step after the seemingly endless array of scratch-off games and the new, twice-weekly Lotto.

Where would it take us? The difference, after all, between floating casinos and casinos on solid ground is merely rhetorical. Once Maryland allows Vegas-style gambling on the bay, and the money starts rolling in, what's to stop the state from running casinos on, say, the Eastern Shore to take advantage of the tourist trade -- or in Western Maryland, to bolster the sagging economy?

The problem with state-run gambling is the same as with individual gambling: The appetite for winning is insatiable and in the long run, it is unequivocally a losing proposition.

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