Hypocrisy in gambling debate

July 27, 1996|By Harold Jackson

SHOW ME A politician and I'll show you a hypocrite. I'm not the only American who thinks that way. It's the lack of trust in all politicians that has thwarted Republican efforts so far to beat Bill Clinton on the character issue. Voters believe politicians, as a group, are schemers.

Just look at what the politicians are pimping as welfare reform. This sorry plan that will hurt poor children rightly adds a work requirement to public assistance, but does not include enough money for the type of job training that will lead to decent jobs for aid recipients. The politicians think voters will accept anything as better than the current welfare system. So they don't care about devising the best alternative. It's more important to them to be able to say they achieved ''welfare reform'' before they hit the campaign trail.

The hypocrisy of Maryland politicians who, instead of saying what they believe, say what they think voters want to hear is evident in their indecisiveness over casino gambling. They want it, but they don't want to say they want it.

Seeking re-election last year, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he didn't want it. Now he's for it, but only if Baltimore schools get part of the take. This strategic shift comes months after he prematurely disbanded a committee studying the possible impact of casino gambling on Baltimore. He now says if Gov. Parris Glendening shows any sign of allowing slots at Maryland tracks to compete with those in Delaware, he may ask him to put some former city gambling-committee members on the governor's gambling task force.

What task force? If the mayor is talking about the governor's commission chaired by former U.S. Sen. Joseph D. Tydings, it finished work last November, saying Maryland doesn't need casinos or slots because the gambling dens would hurt existing businesses.

Phantom commission

Of course, if the work of the Tydings commission really meant anything, there wouldn't have been that 11th-hour flurry in the last legislative session that briefly made slots seem about to win approval. And if the other politicians really thought the governor was going to be bound by the commission recommendation, we wouldn't be hearing about gambling possibilities now. But we are.

The conviction of Laurel/Pimlico owner Joe De Francis for illegally making campaign contributions through other members of his family may have set back the effort to get slots at his tracks, but it hasn't killed it. Then, too, that incident alone shouldn't change people's opinions about slot machines. Even if Mr. De Francis had no interest in getting slots, he would still be trying to influence politicians who could help ensure his tracks' survival. Remember his request for state funding for improvements at Pimlico?

Maryland already has gambling. Discussing its expansion should free of hypocrisy. The mayor, the governor and any other politician who covets casino money, but is afraid to say so, should stop pretending. While they posture in denial, the state inches closer to the inevitable without their setting some ground rules.

No one is talking publicly about the conditions under which this state would accept a casino in Western Maryland or Ocean City, which are the most logical sites. No one is talking about licensing or whether a new gaming commission with broad authority over racetracks with slots should be created. No one is talking about new laws requiring full disclosure of casino investors and income to discourage the infiltration of organized crime. No one is talking about requiring casinos to operate gambling-addiction programs.

The politicians prefer to pretend they will never allow gambling in this state. I wasn't here: Is that what they said before there was a Maryland Lottery?

Harold Jackson writes editorials for The Sun.

Pub Date: 7/27/96

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