Bury the Bandits

January 25, 1992

Not every idea that refuses to die deserves life support. So why are Harford County lawmakers trying to resuscitate a bill that both the governor and the General Assembly have repeatedly turned down? For the past four years, proposals to expand legalized slot machines beyond the eight Eastern Shore counties where they are now permitted have gone nowhere. Yet every year, Harford lawmakers try to legalize the one-armed bandits. Can't they take a hint? This dog won't hunt.

Supporters of allowing civic and fraternal groups to operate slots claim they are a painless way to raise charity funds. What they don't say is the games invite involvement by organized crime, which lines its pockets with money illegally diverted from slots. There is no way law enforcement agencies can police the various kinds of "skimming" that could take place with so many slot machines operating in so many different locations.

And who says the addictive behavior characteristic of frequent gamblers is "painless," anyway? Certainly not the families of gambling addicts, who suffer most directly the economic consequences of gaming losses, nor the would-be high-rollers themselves once they come to recognize the pathological nature of their obsession through treatment in recovery programs such as Gamblers Anonymous.

It's bad enough that the state depends on lottery revenues to support public activities. The state has no business luring its least economically secure citizens to squander their slim resources on a long-shot hope of striking it rich. Extending that prerogative to private groups under the pretext of promoting "charitable" activity would be unconscionable. If Harford lawmakers insist on reviving this morally and fiscally repugnant legislation, the governor and the General Assembly should hold their ground and let the bill die -- again.

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