The district rolls the dice

August 25, 1993

Washington Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly wants to bring casino gambling to the nation's capital. She feels it's an easy way to pay for a giant new convention center and also reduce the city's chronic budget deficit. Yet it also is a shortsighted move that ought to be resisted strongly by Marylanders.

Despite the proliferation of gambling across the country, what is being proposed in the District of Columbia would surely bring out the worst elements of society. Washington already is plagued by a major crime epidemic; casino gambling would simply make matters worse.

Elected officials seem to feel that legalized gambling is a way to pump lots of new money into government coffers without any political pain. It doesn't work that way. Wide-open gambling increases the number of gambling addicts, increases prostitution and hold-ups near the casinos and breeds an atmosphere in local neighborhoods that you can indeed get something for nothing.

The last thing Maryland needs is a D.C. casino on the Potomac. Casinos are bad influences on the community and bad influences on government. You need to look no further than Atlantic City, N.J., to understand the corrupting influence of these gaming parlors.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer was quick to go on record in opposition to casinos in D.C. or in Maryland, and rightly so. It would be like handing a free pass to professional gamblers, corporate gambling companies and underworld elements to come into Maryland. It is one kind of economic development we can do without.

Maryland's horse-racing industry nervously opposes casinos, too, because race tracks could lose a big chunk of their business as gamblers shift their cash wagers from playing the horses to the blackjack and craps tables. But operators of Maryland's two thoroughbred tracks are being hypocritical in opposing the D.C. casinos while also urging casino gaming operations for the tracks if Washington does legalize gaming operations. They are clearly motivated only by self-interest. Yet the racing industry pumps $1 billion a year into the local economy, and anything that threatens that long-established industry here should be opposed.

We urge Maryland's congressional delegation to kill any District of Columbia gambling bill on Capitol Hill. If Mayor Kelly wants to build a huge new convention center, there are plenty of acceptable ways to do it. And if the mayor wants to balance the D.C. budget, she ought to get serious about cutting services and cutting the size of her bloated bureaucracy. There's no need for casino gambling in the district. It would be a dangerous roll of the dice.

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