Gambling on the Senate

March 25, 1993

Now that the House of Delegates has voted overwhelmingl to have the state regulate a wide variety of legal gambling in Maryland, the Senate is in a position to help crack down on the numerous illegalities and suspicious behavior that surround legalized commercial bingo, slot machines, casino nights and tip jars.

Gambling is beginning to run amok in Maryland. There is virtually no enforcement of the laws and no oversight of gambling activities. Some legislators, such as Sen. Walter M. Baker, chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, would have us believe otherwise. He thinks these gambling activities are pristine. "I've not seen where there's a problem," he said. Mr. Baker is in for a rude awakening.

Already, one sheriff is under investigation for his role in overseeing slot-machine gambling by fraternal groups and charities on the Eastern Shore and the attorney general is conducting a broader probe of potential slot-machine abuses on the Shore. One of the more alarming developments: 50 slot machines purchased for use by these non-profit organizations are missing. What illegal uses are being made of these one-armed bandits?

Meanwhile, Prince George's County's wide-open casino nights are clearly out of control. County Executive Parris Glendening admits as much and is seeking broad new powers to rein-in some of the abuses.

The bill under consideration, sponsored by House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell, isn't a panacea. It would create a five-member state regulatory board to provide sorely needed oversight and start establishing some uniform standards for groups that are permitted to conduct gambling activities. This at least would help deter professional gamblers and gaming operators from gaining a foothold in Maryland.

Senator Baker ought to take another look at what gambling is doing to Maryland. It has a corrosive, corrupting influence on people, especially those with small incomes. The temptation of operators to skim some of the proceeds and to manipulate the books is enormous. If the state is not going to outlaw these insidious games of chance it should at least crack down on areas of potential abuse so that those who insist on gambling get a fair deal.

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