The issue of slot machines in Maryland should have been laid to rest five years ago when Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the General Assembly decided to limit the one-armed bandits to eight Eastern Shore counties. It wasn't. A procession of local lawmakers has tried, unsuccessfully so far, to get the machines legalized in their jurisdictions. The latest float in this ignominious parade is Anne Arundel Del. Charles "Stokes" Kolodziejski, who is sponsoring a bill to allow a limited number of slots in fraternal clubs.
The forces pushing the bill, a statewide veterans group and volunteer firefighters, say they're just looking for ways to keep their clubs and charitable good works alive. Perhaps. But it's still an incredibly bad idea made worse by Arundel's checkered gaming past.
Slot machines, a great underworld laundering operation owing to the large untraceable sums it generates, were driven out of Arundel and Southern Maryland in the '60s under a cloud of scandal and impropriety. Arundel has also had more than a little trouble with for-profit bingo. Two years ago, the kingpin of this bingo industry was named in federal court papers as an unindicted co-conspirator in a money-laundering, racketeering scheme.
Yet Mr. Kolodziejski suggests that allowing slots in Arundel would help hometown clubs and charities and keep local gamblers from going to Atlantic City. Mr. Kolodziejski's naivete astounds us. Legalized gambling of this ilk is ripe for infiltration by organized crime elements. Law enforcement officials say there's no way they can control illegal skimming when it involves so many machines in so many locations.
Weighed against the strong likelihood of mob involvement, the argument that slot machines will benefit charities falls short. Worse, there's something distasteful about the notion of keeping local gamblers at home. This isn't about shopping, it's about an activity that at best saps the resources of those least able to afford it and at worst ruins families and lives.
A survey by the Center for Gamblers Anonymous in Maryland found that fully half of gambling addictions involve slot and video poker machines. Worse, those most likely to play slot machines are on low or fixed incomes. That the source of their pleasure is a civic or charitable outfit hardly mitigates the damage done by out-of-control gambling.
Despite the state's shameless promotion of and addiction to lottery revenues, harnessing human greed and gullibility to raise money is unconscionable. Anne Arundel was forced to outlaw slot machines three decades ago for good reason. It would be foolish to turn back the clock.