Cambridge Casino: a Bad Bet Fool's Gold

September 17, 1995

The Eastern Shore town of Cambridge is desperate for a plan to rejuvenate its downtown and picturesque waterfront on the Choptank River -- but casino gambling there is not the answer. It is a proposal driven by greed from private-sector representatives and local officials who see economic boom times from a large gambling complex.

Cambridge's mayor, David Wooten, is tooting the horn for gambling interests. He has appointed a commission to look into the issue and lay the groundwork for local support for a giant casino by the river. He sees the glitter and attraction of the gambling gold, but he hasn't looked yet at the devastating side-effects.

The mayor ought to examine the situation in Louisiana, which legalized casinos and video poker machines four years ago. Scandal after scandal has hit the state. FBI wiretaps show state legislators discussing bribes from gambling lobbyists. A half-dozen mob leaders have pleaded guilty to plotting a massive profit-skimming scam. Political cronyism is rampant. Mom and pop stores have been hurt as disposable income flows to casinos instead of their shops. Compulsive gambling has soared. And those promised jobs just haven't materialized.

Things in Louisiana have gotten so bad there's a movement afoot by citizens to write a gambling ban into the state constitution.

Is this what Cambridge residents want for their quiet community? The casino operators would reap a profit, but would the town and its people be better off? We don't think so.

There's also a question about the viability of a Cambridge casino. Sure, in summertime the casino would gain business from those ultimately bound for the Atlantic beaches. But what about those bone-chilling winter months on the Choptank? Hardly an inviting locale for tourists or gamblers.

Cambridge officials -- and a state commission -- should beware of claims from casino lobbyists. They'll promise the moon and deliver a pittance. Some public officials, though, may get fat campaign contributions and other favors from the casino crowd, yet they, too, had better heed the Louisiana lesson: A recent poll shows 8 of 10 voters would turn against legislators tied to gaming interests. A proximity to casino lobbyists could be political death for local and state politicians.

Maryland's commission on casinos, led by former Sen. Joseph D. Tydings, should conclude its hearings and its site visits and then lay out the reasons why riverboats and gambling halls are antithetical to Maryland. It's a get-rich-quick scheme that doesn't work. Cambridge officials, meanwhile, should focus on solid, family-oriented economic development plans, such as the $35 million Sailwinds project modeled on Baltimore's Inner Harbor. There's no place for casinos at either location.

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