Ocean City Mayor Roland "Fish" Powell is absolutely accurate in his assessment of the damage that legalized keno could do to his Atlantic Coast resort community. With a new keno game broadcast every five minutes, 18 hours a day, the vacation town could quickly turn into a gambling town. Ocean City's family image would be ruined.
When fraternal organizations on the Eastern Shore persuaded the legislature and Gov. William Donald Schaefer to sanction limited slot-machine gambling in their establishments, Mayor Powell and officials of Worcester County succeeded in gaining an exemption. "Keep Ocean City free of gambling" was the battle cry. They were right, and the governor and the legislature knew it.
So it is puzzling why the governor is now so adamant that a more addictive gambling venture -- fast-paced keno -- is appropriate for Ocean City, as well as the rest of Maryland. If this game is placed in restaurants, bars, fast-food joints, discos and other local commercial locations, there's no telling what mischief it can cause. It also will open the door to full-fledged casino operations that many hotel owners would like to see at the beach.
Is that the trend Mr. Schaefer -- an Ocean City homeowner himself -- wants for this popular resort town? Is Ocean City on its way to becoming another Atlantic City, with its around-the-clock gambling, its prostitution and its organized crime? Once electronic video keno is ensconced, there's no telling where this could end.
Resistance to the governor's keno game is growing. Mayors in other small communities have voiced opposition. Some have written the Lottery Agency in protest. They don't want keno in their towns. They recognize the dangers that are implicit with day-and-night gambling ventures of this sort.
The Senate Finance Committee has voted 11-0 to recommend that the legislative leadership press to delay the Jan. 4 launch date for video keno. These lawmakers also want to pass legislation next session barring the Lottery Agency from operating keno-style video games. Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. is urging the governor to take a second look at this gambling venture.
It is not too late for Mr. Schaefer to reconsider; there are other ways to close the current budget gap. In fact, with the improved economic climate so evident in those large holiday shopping crowds, the governor's deficit problems could shrink dramatically in the coming months.
Let's keep keno in the can -- where it belongs.