For years Harford County lawmakers have tried to legalize slot machines and video poker games. Proponents of the idea say county civic and fraternal groups need the one-armed bandits to help raise money for charity. But Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the General Assembly, to their credit, have refused to expand legalized slots beyond the eight Eastern Shore counties where they are permitted now. That's sound policy.
The machines are magnets for organized crime. A slot that costs $7,000 to install can easily produce annual revenues of $100,000 or more. That kind of cash flow makes them natural targets for underworld groups that seek to illegally divert money from legitimate operations to their own pockets. County law enforcement officials admit they cannot prevent criminals from moving in to take a slice of the action when the machines are spread out over so many different locations.
Law-abiding citizens would be hurt in other ways as well. No one wants to see Maryland become a gamblers' mecca a la Atlantic City or Las Vegas. Yet allowing Harford County to operate legalized slots surely would create pressure in other parts of the state for similar legislation. Moreover, gambling, like alcohol and drug abuse, is addictive to some people. The cost of the gambling habit is also to be measured in the number of personal bankruptcies, dislocated families and destitute individuals that result.
Experience shows that legalized gambling is a poor way to finance public needs. Once hooked on slots, however, private groups would become just as dependent on this revenue source as is state government. The governor and the legislature should "just say no."