Slots in Disguise

December 26, 1991

Can any elected official be seriously considering video lotteries for Maryland? Amazingly, some state legislators seem to think this is an acceptable way to help the state out of its budget troubles. "From our perspective, they ought to be looking at things like that before cooking up new tax things." That piece of wisdom comes from Sen. George W. Della, who sees video lotteries as an "easy way" to direct a sizable chunk of money into state coffers.

We can't imagine a more attractive invitation to the worst elements of organized crime. These high-tech slot machines -- and that's what they are -- offer a perfect opportunity to divert tens of millions of dollars into underworld pockets.

Supporters are attempting to wrap these games in pseudo-respectability by calling them video lotteries. Robert Babcock, a lobbyist for a leading game manufacturer, estimates the state could make $119 million the first year. "If a state wants to expand its lottery revenues, it has to look at video," he urges. This blatant attempt to bring video slot machines to Maryland under the guise of video lotteries should fool no one.

The machines accept change, players choose options and get paid off by the bartender or cashier. This sounds to us a lot more like playing the slots than buying a lottery ticket. Law enforcement officials have opposed slots because there is no practical way to curb the skimming that invariably happens when machines are spread out in multiple locations. Those same concerns apply here.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, rightly, opposes the concept behind these games and has so far rejected them. He should stick to his guns.

State legislators should reject this idea as well. Video lottery means slot machines, plain and simple. Limiting their numbers in any one location and restricting access to minors -- cautionary measures suggested by proponents -- don't even pretend to get at the real problem.

Legalized gambling devices strewn all over the state would generate just the kind of unsupervised cash flow attractive to underworld elements. This danger isn't magically exorcised by calling slots by another name. The state's financial burdens are severe, putting legislators under extreme pressure to come up with solutions. This one is unacceptable.

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