No Need for Keno in Maryland

February 09, 1993

The Senate Finance Committee should stand firm and vote to kill keno, the fast-action gambling game championed by the Schaefer administration. And the Senate's budget panel ought to lend a hand by showing the governor how to balance the budget without reliance on this addictive game.

Casino-style keno isn't confined to closely supervised gambling halls: the lottery agency is hooking up terminals at every convenience store, bar and restaurant it can find.

The dangers are obvious. Worcester County was so concerned about taverns offering cheap "happy hour" drinks to patrons for putting money on the keno games every five minutes that it has banned the practice. With keno offering a 5 percent skim to retailers, addictive gambling could increase. The presence of keno machines in bowling and pizza outlets will lead to far more under-age gambling.

New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio recently nixed efforts to start keno in his state, wisely noting that "We need to look at the objectives that various forms of gambling serve, and consider what level of reliance on gambling revenues is prudent."

That's what Maryland should be doing, too. Is it appropriate to plunge into community-style casino wagering? Is this the right way to raise public revenue? These questions have never been considered.

A host of gambling activities needs to be brought under strict state supervision:

* Slot machines at Eastern Shore fraternal clubs, where oversight by local sheriffs is so meager it has triggered a state grand jury probe.

* Charity gambling in Prince George's County, which the county executive says is in danger of becoming a mecca for organized crime.

* For-profit bingo in Anne Arundel County, where organized crime links have already been established at one location.

* Tip jars in Western Maryland that are totally unregulated and subject to abuse.

When will our leaders wake up to the potential dangers confronting Maryland? The Senate Finance Committee is right in demanding an end to keno. House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell is right to push for state regulation of other forms of gambling. If JTC lawmakers don't act this session to stem the tide, the corrupting influence of keno and other insidious games of chance could overwhelm Maryland law-enforcement agencies. The time to put limits on government-sanctioned gambling is now.

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