Lottery Lunacy

September 19, 1993

The director of the National Center for Compulsive Gambling calls Maryland's latest lottery venture -- vending machines -- "another governmental scam" to convince people that gambling is fun and a sure way to win easy money. It takes Maryland state government another step closer to sanctioning all forms of gambling.

This is a dangerous path for Maryland to follow. Before you know it, these vending machines will be ubiquitous -- at bus stops and subway stations, convenience and food stores, state office buildings and anywhere people congregate. The message being disseminated by the state is misleading and duplicitous -- it is not a "game" or a form of entertainment. It is a sucker's bet designed to separate people from their cash. The state wants to fill its coffers with money that it intentionally lures from unsuspecting lottery players.

Where do our leaders stand? Treasurer Lucille Maurer voted for the vending machines on the meek excuse the legislature had approved the concept. Her own views, apparently, don't matter. Gov. William Donald Schaefer at first tried to avoid taking a stand on vending machines. He said he didn't want to be "spotted" as the deciding vote. But recently he voted and blamed his "yes" vote on the state's need for ever-more cash.

The moral implications weren't discussed, except by Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, the third member of the Board of Public Works, who dissented because he feared teens would use the lottery vending machines. Most State House leaders are so intent on squeezing out more dollars for the state they're willing to sanction more gambling.

Last year, it was keno. Then it was the "El Gordo" mega-jackpot game. Then casinos on ocean cruise lines in the Chesapeake. And now instant lottery vending machines.

What comes next? Riverboat gambling? Video poker? Full-blown casinos?

Gambling does not provide a reliable form of revenue for the state. Once the glow fades from the latest initiatives, officials will see profits decline. Then the search resumes for other forms of sucker games. It is a vicious circle. But until state officials see the inherent dangers, Maryland appears destined to continue sliding down that slippery slope toward wide-open gambling.

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