The Shore: where slots are king

February 03, 1994

Here's the message that legislators from Maryland's Eastern Shore want to send to the rest of the state: Mind your own business. Or as the chairman of the Shore's State House delegation put it, "We can take care of ourselves. Just leave us alone. . ."

And what is it that has these shoremen so exersized? A matter of state's rights? A dispute over wetlands or land use? A taxation controversy? A new bay bridge?

No, they are worried that the state -- good gracious! -- might actually start policing the Shore's wide-open slot-machine business.

Why, it would be downright un-American for Annapolis to regulate the slots industry, they say. It would hurt charitable giving and lead to more government intrusion in their daily lives.

If you are thinking that this refrain sounds decades out of tune, you're right. Next thing you know, these pols will be threatening secession from Maryland if the state dares to control their sacred slots. The South will rise again!

State lawmakers from the rest of Maryland should not be conned. The Shore pols are fronting for charitable clubs and groups such as the VFW, Elks, Moose and American Legion halls on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay that legally operate slots parlors with virtually no policing of their activities. These are well-meaning organizations, but the potential for abuse is immense. The need for state regulation and scrupulous oversight is obvious.

Even one of the Shore's own law-enforcement officers admits that state help is essential to police the slots clubs. Talbot County Sheriff Tom Duncan said he "would welcome help" from the state. Why? Because Sheriff Duncan realizes he's out of his league when it comes to regulating large-scale gambling enterprises. "I don't know how the [slot] machines work," the sheriff admitted. "I have no accounting abilities" to ascertain what's happening with the tens of millions of dollars pumped into these electronic machines.

Local sheriffs don't have the expertise, the budget or the manpower to police the slots industry. The state does. The General Assembly has an obligation to ensure that legalized gambling endeavors of this magnitude are strictly regulated and closely supervised by skilled state personnel. Otherwise, the Eastern Shore's slots industry is a scandal waiting to happen.

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