Maryland: Gorging on gambling

January 08, 1993

Get ready to gorge yourself on more legalized gambling.

With keno now firmly in place in the Schaefer administration's galaxy of games, state port and tourist officials have set their eyes on another wager: cruise-ship casino betting. And behind that new venture is another legislative proposal to bring riverboat gambling to Maryland's rivers.

Will it never end?

Apparently not any time soon. General Assembly leaders, with a handful of exceptions, displayed little backbone as Gov. William Donald Schaefer rammed keno through without any legislative input. Neither House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell nor Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller tried to deter the governor from ignoring the legislature.

Instead, these leaders accepted keno as a fait accompli with the lame excuse that Maryland needs the added revenue. That rationale could be used to justify just about any endeavor. How about video poker machines? Maryland needs the money. An expansion of slot machines? Maryland needs the money. Casinos in the Inner Harbor and Ocean City? Maryland needs the money.

We hope it doesn't come to that, but our elected leaders have given no indication they have the courage to resist new gambling wagers.

There are other ways to close the state's budget gap. For starters, an improving economy should greatly enhance state revenues this year. And whatever happened to "downsizing government?" Weren't Messrs Mitchell and Miller preaching that approach last year and the year before? If more money has to be raised, why not do it through traditional and dependable means, such as more user fees for services or expanding the sales tax to items currently not taxed?

Port officials say that permitting cruise ships to open their casinos in Maryland waters would make Baltimore a more desirable destination. It's an economic development move, not an expansion of gambling. Only cruise ships with a foreign destination could open their casinos on the Chesapeake.

But before port officials worry about these floating casinos, they had better concentrate on a more basic reason for Baltimore's slim cruise-ship trade: lack of a passenger terminal in the Inner Harbor. Making that terminal a reality would do far more to stimulate cruise-ship traffic than any blackjack or roulette table.

Gambling is not the answer to the state's problems. It is a dangerous slide into questionable revenue-raising, of state-encouraged enticements to Marylanders to throw their hard-earned money away in hopes of striking it rich. Sadly, much of it is happening without a murmur of protest from our elected legislators. For them, gambling is just too appetizing to resist.

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