Maryland can't lose if the gambling guv plays his cards right

September 26, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

Doc "Riverboat" Schaefer, the gambling guv, is finally ready to go all the way.

He's no longer satisfied with cheesy bar games like keno or low-rent bingo parlors for old women (or old guvs) in support hose.

This time, the guv is talking big stakes, the big score.

He's talking about building a casino. Right here in river city.

Boy, it'd be great, too. It'd bring tons of money and Donald Trump and maybe even (cross your fingers) Wayne Newton to Maryland. And lots of jobs. In fact, I envision the guv, who needs a job soon, as an official greeter.

One day, he's the guv. The next he's handing out free rolls of quarters outside a casino door.

A dream?

Right now, it's a dream. Soon it could be a concept. The guv, along with Mayor Kurt Schmoke, is calling for a commission to study the possibility of Maryland casino gambling.

Whatever the commission decides, casinos are coming eventually. You can lay odds. It's what every gambler hopes for -- a sure thing.

If you understand the lesson of lottery creep, in which state after state embraced the game until an entire nation went lotto-crazy, you know that someday there will be a casino near you.

New Orleans, Houston and Detroit have already approved casino gambling. They even have casinos in Bible Belt Mississippi. Rivers across this great land are crowded with gamblers on boats (if no longer crowded with actual fish). And, it has become clear, the casino has replaced the buffalo as the essence of American Indian life.

If a casino comes to Maryland, it could be on a riverboat. In Maryland, we've got rivers, we've got lakes, we've got bays, we've got inlets, we've got harbors, we've even got oceans.

Or they could build this baby right across from Oriole Park where they were going to put the football stadium.

All I know is I see lots of glass and neon lights and clanging slots and young women, once of high-standing, serving drinks while tTC spilling out of outfits that would make Madonna blush. You tell me what could be better.

Oh, yeah, I forgot. There's also the $4.99 surf-and-turf buffet.

Legal gambling last year hit $330 billion, which is even more than O. J. Simpson's lawyers pulled in. The money is too big to pass up. And the more states that succumb to the cash, the greater the pressure on every other state.

Not that there won't be some roadblocks along the way to getting casinos into Maryland. For instance, there are the two gubernatorial candidates.

Here's another sure bet: Whoever wins, the new guv won't be anything like the old one.

Parris Glendening is, well, thoughtful. He's worried that we have a gambling obsession in Maryland. He's probably worried, too, that poor people, encouraged by the state, are spending money that could be used on something else -- say, groceries. Maybe he wonders about the ethics of serving people free drinks and pointing them at roulette tables.

Glendening is thoughtful. He's concerned. In other words, he's boring.

If he had to, the guv, back in his days as the mayor, would dress in an Edwardian bathing suit and go swimming in the aquarium alongside seals and a woman dressed as a mermaid. Glendening probably doesn't even believe in mermaids. He definitely doesn't believe in casinos.

Ellen Sauerbrey doesn't like casinos, either, and probably for the same reasons. And we know for sure she isn't interested in the additional revenue. No, sir. She can cut state taxes by 24 percent and, at the same time, give every state employee a raise right now. From what I understand, under her plan, the state would still have schools and, I don't know, maybe even highways.

And you say there aren't any miracles anymore.

Whatever future governors might think, I like casinos. Of course, I also enjoy dwarf tossing, especially if you can bet on it.

My favorite casino is Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. You tell me if this isn't class. I stay in the Fantasy Tower where the rooms have round beds with red velvet covers and a mirror on the ceiling, which is perfect because my particular fantasy, as I may have mentioned before, happens to be shaving in bed.

Someday, citizens of Maryland, this could all be yours.

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