Casino Mania in Prince George's

September 13, 1991

Charity casino operators in Prince George's County have persuaded local legislators who should know better to lift a moratorium on gambling permits. The predictable outcome has been a surge of applications that would more than double the number of players in a business that is easily corrupted. Charity gambling gives legitimate groups a way to bankroll their good works. But it also opens the door to games run by unsavory casino operators masquerading as charities.

The scandals and indictments that rocked the county just a few years ago apparently have been forgotten. The county council, bowing to political pressure, has somehow convinced itself that the threat of illegalities is past.

This has prompted state Del. Marty Madden to propose a bilrequiring casino operators to open their books to an accountant and make it tougher to get a gambling license. To what extent this would deter unsavory operators is debatable. Since the revelations of the late 1980s, regulatory screws have been tightened considerably. Yet county prosecutors and police are still probing fresh cases of casino corruption and fraud.

The enduring rationale for charity gambling is that it raisemoney for all manner of good causes. But it has been demonstrated, repeatedly and with great clarity in Prince George's and elsewhere, that gambling of any stripe almost always attracts shady and unscrupulous operators. At this point, Prince George's officials should be considering not only stiffening regulations, but the broader question of whether the benefits of charity gambling outweigh the costs.

The answer, it seems to us, is no. A dozen would-be operators are clamoring to get into a business where it is not unusual to see single groups running several games per week. Once a sparingly used fund-raising source, charity games have taken on the characteristics of a bona-fide business -- established operators even want to keep out new competition.

Given all this, the county council's decision to lift the permit ban is not only foolhardy but short-sighted. Delegate Madden's proposal moves Prince George's County closer to where it should be, but falls short of being a real solution. County Executive Parris Glendening contemplates closing off the business to new operators altogether. The question is whether he has the stomach to end or at least severely hamstring a practice that has clearly gotten out of control.

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