Keno madness

December 04, 1992

With its eyes locked myopically on the bottom line, the Board of Public Works earlier this week gave the go-ahead to a massive expansion of legalized gambling in Maryland. Social consequences were never considered. Nor was much thought given to the propriety of the situation, in which the board made an unprecedented non-bid award of $49 million to GTECH, a computer company with influential lobbyists that is aggressively seeking to extend state-sanctioned gambling as far and as fast as possible.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, obsessed with solving the state's budget deficit, has latched onto the lottery and other forms of gambling as a way out. He warmly embraced GTECH's plans for a mega-jackpot $5-a-ticket lottery drawing later this month and GTECH's keno, which is a massive electronic gambling system that features virtual 'round-the-clock gambling every five minutes.

What appealed to the governor was the state's payoff: possibly $12 million from the mega-jackpot lottery and many times that amount from keno.

We think the governor, and the other two board members, Louis L. Goldstein and Lucille Maurer, made a terrible mistake in approving this huge expansion of gambling. Keno isn't likely to be the fiscal savior the governor thinks. Legislative analysts believe Mr. Schaefer is overestimating keno's impact by 50 percent. The game is likely to cut into other lottery games substantially, lowering the state's revenues there, too. And Maryland's racing industry could be drastically affected at a time when this $1 billion-a-year industry is already reeling from the recession.

There's another serious flaw in keno: the destructive impact wide-open gambling could have on the state's poor and blue-collar citizens, who are now being actively encouraged by government to spend their last dollars on the game. This electronic gambling is clearly designed to be addictive. It gives players instant gratification. Every five minutes, you can place another bet. On pay days, bars and restaurants with keno machines ought to clean up. How these individuals will pay for food and other necessities the rest of the week doesn't apparently concern officials in Annapolis.

Something ought to be done to stop this gambling craze that has captivated State House officials. The General Assembly seems content to sit there and do nothing. Not a peep has been heard from House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell or Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. Attorney General J. Joseph Curran has gone along with this deal. Keno could do serious, long-term damage to Maryland citizens. But no one in authority in our state capital seems to care.

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