As the new year begins, you can make a bet on one thing: Nineteen ninety-five will be the Year of the Gambler in Maryland. Everywhere you look, folks are trying to expand legalized gambling.
Many of the state's biggest lobbyists have signed up high-powered gambling companies interested in getting permission to line the Chesapeake Bay and all its tributary shoreline with casinos containing roulette wheels, craps games, blackjack and halls filled with slot machines. They are expected to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to win over the legislature and the governor.
Unfortunately, Gov.-elect Parris N. Glendening has equivocated on the gambling issue. He did the same thing during his tenure as Prince George's county executive, where so-called "charity" casinos ran wild -- with little accountability for the tens of millions of dollars wagered each year.
But if Mr. Glendening and legislative leaders opt for a go-slow approach that would delay casino bills until 1996, lobbyists have a back-up plan: Seek approval for a preliminary step in the form of riverboat gambling. Not just in the Chesapeake, but in the Patapsco, Patuxent, the Severn, South River, the Magothy, Middle River, the Susquehanna and the Choptank -- to name just a few possible sites. The "hook" would be the same from lobbyists, though. Gambling means millions for the state and local government treasuries.
Sadly, there is more. A Virginia entrepreneur insists he wants to place an Indian gambling casino in Western Maryland. This is strictly a money-making deal for the private investor, who luckily has drawn the steadfast opposition of most local officials.
And finally, there are the state's race tracks, which have embarked on a dangerous experiment to expand legalized gambling into the home. The state racing commission has sanctioned this market test. Gamblers would be able to establish accounts and place their bets via interactive cable TV. The potential for abuse -- and for a growing number of gambling addicts -- is frightening.
The hard lessons learned in Atlantic City, where gambling has produced multiple headaches and almost no local benefits, ought to be hammered home to officials in Annapolis. The temptation of new revenue from gambling should be resisted. It is a corrupting influence. Legislators and the governor-elect ought to send gambling lobbyists packing and focus on more legitimate ways to create jobs and prosperity for Maryland.