Casino commission at crossroads Blueprint or straitjacket: Will task force reject casinos or give them new life?

November 05, 1995

IT IS TIME for members of the state task force on casinos to take a forthright stand firmly against this insidious form of gambling. No mincing of words, no hedging: Maryland and casinos won't mesh.

Only by staking out such an unyielding stance can panel members put an end to this matter. Otherwise, casino companies will dip into their deep pockets to buy their way into Maryland. They have already started to do so in Cambridge, where the town's attorney is now on the payroll of a casino, and in Annapolis, where a slew of well-connected lobbyists are earning huge sums to capture the allegiance of state officials.

Casinos are superficially enticing, but ultimately harmful. They crush competing industries, such as horse racing, and hurt the local economy by diverting discretionary dollars away from existing businesses and into out-of-state corporate coffers. The state's own economic analysis finds that casinos will wind up costing Maryland far more money than the new revenue generated. More jobs will be lost than will be created.

Casinos discourage legitimate economic development efforts. They inevitably increase crime and criminal justice costs. They create new gambling addicts and huge new social costs. They harm competing leisure ventures, be they sporting events, tourism, theaters or upscale restaurants. They dramatically alter the quality of life.

We don't want casinos in Maryland. That's the message the task force ought to convey. Yet tomorrow, the panel could vote to help the casinos' cause. It will begin considering the hypothetical proposition of how to regulate and control casinos -- if they are ever legalized here.

Why confront that issue now? The governor says he is adamantly against casinos. The mayor says he is, too. Republicans in the House of Delegates are unanimously opposed. Polls show public opinion strongly against casinos in Maryland. The evidence presented at a series of public hearings proved convincingly that casinos do far more harm than good.

Since there appears to be an overwhelming majority on the task force against legalizing casinos, there's no reason to waste time on "what if" questions. The panel might inadvertently end up endorsing a blueprint that casino lobbyists could adopt as their vehicle for bringing expanded gambling to this state some day.

The task force should not stray from its primary responsibility: Determine if casinos are good or bad for Maryland. We know the answer, and so do panel members.

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