Piling on lottery games is no way to run a state

WILEY A. HALL

November 19, 1992|By WILEY A. HALL

State leaders, with their insatiable appetite for the quick buck plan to launch a new lottery game early next year called Quick Draw.

It will be based on keno -- a game of chance (as the euphemism goes) that is popular in casinos from coast to coast. Lottery officials predict Quick Draw will be played in bars and taverns and other assorted dives around the state and pull in from $25 million to $50 million a year. The governor and the General Assembly's chief financial adviser are squabbling over the exact amount of swag the game will produce.

In the meantime, of course, Maryland will continue to offer the Lotto game, which is played every Wednesday and Saturday. And there will be the daily numbers games, Pick 3 and Pick 4, and the Match 5 game, which is played five days a week including Sundays.

And we must not forget that the state also will continue the PTC Joker's Wild, Cool Cash Explosion, Mega Bucks, Big Money Match, Instant Football, Baseball Memories and Double Your Money. And we mustn't forget the relatively new, high-tech games such as Hoops, Instant Slots, First and Ten, and Sports Doubler.

Maryland is one of the top lottery states in the nation, but lottery officials appear tormented by the knowledge that they are not Number One. Every year, they fall to their knees and crawl to Annapolis to beg for more money for advertising and bigger, faster, shinier new computers to process ever more sophisticated games.

And it goes without saying that the state government will continue to levy income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, motor vehicle license and registration taxes, real estate transfer taxes, gasoline taxes, taxes on privately owned electronic games and slot machines, and taxes on cigarettes and alcohol and now, newspapers.

The state also will continue to require various professional licensing fees, document filing fees, and the sundry highway, bridge and tunnel tolls. State police will prowl the highways looking for speeders to fine. Buses and subways owned by the Mass Transit Administration will continue to serve as mobile billboards for various brands of whiskey, fashion jeans, and tobacco products. State-sanctioned tourist traps will continue to sell everything from key chains to T-shirts to coffee mugs, and all giving a cut to Mother Maryland.

In 1986, then-Gov. Harry Hughes launched two instant lottery games, in part to generate cash to repay depositors at failed savings and loans. In 1987, Gov. William Donald Schaefer launched two more instant games to help pay for the two sports stadiums at Camden Yards. (The proposed football stadium, by the way, was for a professional team that did not exist in 1987, does not exist today, and will never exist.)

And in 1988, Lottery officials became concerned that not enough middle class people were playing their games, so they doubled the odds against winning, in hopes that larger pots would lure more affluent players. 1988 also was the year that the state sanctioned playing the lottery on Sundays.

Now, the governor is praying that Quick Draw will help offset the state's $450 million budget deficit -- a deficit that somehow persists despite a seemingly continual round of lay-offs and furloughs of state employees, dramatic cuts in services, and, just last year, the greatest tax increase in decades.

Meanwhile, there are proposals to open new areas of the state to slot machines and to legalize off-track betting and gambling halls so that Maryland can tax the winnings.

You do realize, don't you, that our state leaders have gone quite mad. Who knows where it will stop?

I feel as though we've been Shanghaied onto the Ship of Fools, as if the management of the state's economy has fallen into the hands of Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Each new proposal -- like this piling on of lottery game on top of lottery game -- seems like satirical commentary on how government ought not to operate.

I would recommend intensive therapy for all of them. But I am sure our fearless leaders would require years of treatment. And they'd probably launch yet another lottery to pay the bill.

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