Beware 'the sirens of easy money' Casinos in Maryland: Chamber of Commerce panel sees riches but ignores consequences.

October 11, 1995

THE FOUR members of a special state Chamber of Commerce panel who strongly endorsed casino gambling for Maryland were way off base. Their report defies the facts and reaches conclusions that cannot be supported. Their flawed recommendations are a triumph of lobbying power over the welfare of the chamber and the state.

From J. Henry Butta's explanation of the virtues of casinos, you would never guess anything bad was associated with this form of gambling. Mr. Butta was so focused on the thousands of jobs for Baltimore and Western Maryland (and the D.C. suburbs), plus the added revenue for cash-starved subdivisions and the state, that he neglected the negatives. There are plenty. Members of the Chamber of Commerce had better carefully consider the potential damage these gambling emporiums can do.

Crime. Mr. Butta claims casinos don't cause more criminal activity. Then why did Atlantic City's crime rate triple in just three years? No mention of organized crime's influence, either, in the panel's report.

The group further claims existing businesses won't be hurt by casinos, though it hasn't happened that way in many other states. It also predicts governments will reap a fortune from casino taxes, which is at odds with state studies in Florida and New York. And it sloughs off fears that compulsive gamblers will multiply when casinos open.

Finally, in a burst of illogic that has some businessmen fuming, the Butta group calls horse racing "a dying industry" and urges the state to embrace casinos as a preferred replacement. Yet the report also calls horse racing "an important industry" here. That being the case, why should the Maryland Chamber of Commerce write off an in-state industry that is actually making a strong comeback?

It was a dismaying performance by the panel. No wonder Gov. Parris Glendening later warned the chamber "against being lured by the sirens of easy money." Yes, the state and localities will have trouble downsizing as they are hit by massive cuts in federal aid. And yes, the state must shrink even more to accommodate a 5 or 10 percent income-tax cut.

But casino revenue is not the answer. It should not be the quid pro quo for the chamber's ambitious plan to chop income-tax rates 15 percent. Nor is it a cure-all for the state's other ills. We urge Chamber of Commerce members to firmly reject their panel's ill-conceived suggestions and instead build Maryland's future growth on more traditional -- and legitimate -- forms of economic development.

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