Gambling Run Amok

December 16, 1991

Isn't it obvious to local officials that commercial and charity gambling is more trouble than it's worth? Look at the illegal payments to big-time professional gamers in Prince George's County and the alleged ties to organized crime in Anne Arundel County. Now a slew of Prince George's charities are on the hook for close to $1 million in back taxes. Some have paid up. Others are threatening legal action because they contend these casino-night proceeds are charitable funds that cannot be taxed.

This is only the latest in a continuing parade of evidence that legalized gambling is a spectacularly bad idea. In Prince George's, professional gaming operators have turned a benign fund-raising activity into a slick activity generating, by some estimates, close to $20 million a year. These operators take over, vastly increase the volume of games and skim most of the proceeds. The charity takes its cut and looks the other way. This convenient but illegal set-up is an open invitation to organized crime.

Legislators all over the state have tried to rein-in charity gambling for years with little success. The charities argue, convincingly, that the money supports necessary good works. The general public sees nothing wrong with a little fund-raising.

But this has become big-time gambling. A $500 bet isn't aimed at the average citizen who wants to help out the local volunteer fire department. There's nothing community-oriented about casino-night parking lots filled with cars bearing out-of state license plates. Charity gambling is careering out of control. Yet local legislators don't seem to care. A package of reforms introduced months ago by Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening has yet to be acted on by the county council. The Anne Arundel County Council, in a stunning display of bad judgment, voted to make gaming more attractive by doubling the maximum single-game prize to $1,000 from $500.

In both cases, the local legislative bodies are working at cross-purposes with the county executive -- not to mention common sense. In Anne Arundel, a task force created by County Executive Robert R. Neall is working on a bill to clean up that county's troubled commercial bingo industry. Mr. Glendening's reforms would limit the size of bets and make operators accountable for cash flow.

The tax flap in Prince George's underscores the need for immediate and severe curbs on legalized gambling. But given its nature and scope, the best remedy is the one legislators can't seem stomach -- shutting down the casino industry altogether.

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