Life's a gamble, and in Maryland life just got easier

MIKE LITTWIN

September 06, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

Doc "Riverboat" Schaefer, the gambling guv, is doing his best for all the citizens, including my cousin Herbie.

Every Thursday, Herbie takes the bus to Atlantic City, where he promptly loses the grocery money. Soon, he won't have to anymore. Instead, Herbie can lose the grocery money in an actual hometown grocery store.

And he can thank the guv for this kindness. The guv knew of Herbie's plight. He knows buses cost money -- gambling money.

So, he sprang into action.

Faster than you can say three-card monte, the guv and his pals in the legislature (they're the ones wearing the green eyeshades, saying, "Pal, you gonna hit 16 or not?") fixed it up so there will be automatic, self-serve, insto-win lottery machines in the Giant.

Isn't this just the best thing that's happened, grocery store-wise, since jalapenos in the salad bar? I mean, it's got to beat squeezing fruit.

Try to picture this:

You walk into the store, head for the Oreos, and while you're making that tough choice between regular and double-stuffed, you can slip a buck (or $5 or $10 or $20) into the lottery machine, and if you're lucky -- real lucky -- you might have enough money left so you don't have to shoplift the cookies.

Of course, you could win (wink, wink). It's happened.

(Speaking of lottery winners, are you with me on the subject of those Wisconsin weenies who won the $111 million Powerball lottery? The guy, a teacher, says he won't quit his job because he enjoys it. Obviously, he's never worked for Stuart Berger. Not only does he want to keep working, he says he'd feel funny buying a new car. Tell me, why did this guy enter the lottery?

What was he expecting to win -- a year's subscription to Reader's Digest? Don't they have rules on the back of those lottery cards: You have to quit your job. You have to tell off your boss. And you have to build a house at least as big as Graceland.)

Now, I know some bleeding hearts out there don't like this idea of self-serve lottery machines. They find it somehow distasteful, even immoral, that the state encourages people -- OK, begs people -- to gamble away their hard-earned money. I hear things like, why not have the state sponsor dwarf-bowling to raise revenue while we're at it?

I understand what they're saying. And I have this response, taught to me by the guv himself, or was it Bugsy Siegel: Shut up and deal.

We need these lottery machines. As it stands today, all we have in the way of gambling in Maryland is the lottery, keno, the racetrack, off-track betting, simulcast betting, slot machines on the Eastern Shore, bingo parlors and driving through certain neighborhoods at night.

We are way, way behind the curve.

There's no riverboat gambling, as an example. It isn't that we don't have rivers. My gosh, we've got rivers and inlets and bays and canals, even an ocean -- the entire water collection.

We've got space for a flotilla of riverboats or cruise boats or any other kind. We've even got room for some of those excess aircraft carriers Clinton wants to dump.

How about this? Park an aircraft carrier in the Inner Harbor, and you could set up blackjack tables from here to the Domino's sign.

Of course, there's nothing that beats a casino. I love a casino, if just for the muted colors. Also, they give you free booze and even a complimentary room, if you promise to lose enough money.

My favorite casino is Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. I had a room in the Fantasy Tower, which you reach (I'm not making this up), according to the directions I received, "by walking past the ship with the naked lady on the front."

In the room was a huge round bed with red velvet covers, beneath a mirrored ceiling, presumably there in case you like to shave in bed. This is living.

And yet, most states, in a show of surprising squeamishness, don't want casinos. Something about organized crime.

To take up the slack, however, are American Indians, who seem to be building casinos on reservations across our (formerly their) great land. They don't have to worry about organized crime, just broken treaties. Meanwhile, they're raking in the dough.

But not in Maryland, where somebody is missing a heck of a bet. Maybe there aren't enough American Indians here. I don't know. I do know, though, there are plenty of grocery stores.

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