Slots' backers pull the right strings

This Just In...

August 02, 1996|By DAN RODRICKS

Anybody out there have any real doubt we're going to get slot machines in Maryland? Votes, schmotes. There'll be enough votes in the General Assembly. The governor, the Senate president, the speaker of the House, the mayor of Baltimore and John Paterakis will see to it. The only argument against slots is a moral one, which, in the world of politics and money, is no argument at all.

The mayor and the governor -- is Professor Glendening turning out to be the most cynical cat in the junkyard, or what? -- even have found a way to neutralize the public moralists: by linking slot machines to aid for education. How can ministers complain that legalized gambling saps the resources of the poor when some of the revenues will go to fund Baltimore's public schools?

Give it up for these guys. They've found a way to get developer Paterakis what he wants at his Inner Harbor East project (a casino), to get Joe De Francis what he wants at Pimlico and Laurel racetracks (slots), to keep casino-style gambling in Prince George's County (and keep Mike Miller's constituents happy), to give Casper Taylor credit for creating about 1,000 resort jobs in Western Maryland, to give Kurt Schmoke more money for the city schools he's failed to improve over nine years and to spare him the embarrassment of having Pimlico close and horse racing leave the city.

What's the governor get out of this? Chits. And who knows how many more campaign contributions from anyone interested in competing for slot machine permits? He might even be able to propose a tax cut, just in time for the next election.

"I'm concerned that Maryland is becoming obsessed with gambling," said Glendening, in his best country parson imitation, while running for governor in 1994.

Two years later, he's practically Johnny Casino. Somebody get this guy a pinky ring.

And I don't think the governor's transition was arduous. I think the guy has been ready to sign on for slots all along; he merely needed the right circumstance. Now he has one -- Delaware race tracks have slots and $870 million wagered in them in only six months -- and he's found a way of making it appear he had to be talked into this deal. Remember, this is the same guy who said he was "shocked" De Francis was laundering money to the governor's '94 campaign through family in Buffalo. As shocked as he might have been, Glendening appears ready to give De Francis exactly what he was hoping for. That should bring a smile back to young Joe's face.

We're told the General Assembly might stop this deal next winter. Opponents are vowing a fight, maybe even a filibuster. They're just mad because they haven't been cut in on the deal. Yet.

Breeders should benefit

We don't want Pimlico and Laurel racecourses to turn into casinos, do we? De Francis and other backers of slots claim they're necessary at the tracks to save Maryland's horse breeding and racing industry from the new competition in Delaware. So, fine. So let them put some serious money -- and 30 percent of the take from slots is serious -- into purses and breeders' funds. Then we'll see how committed these guys are to horse racing.

Chili dogs and Keno

Meanwhile, what's up with Keno? We've spotted it in gas stations and convenience stores. This wasn't the original plan, back when Don Donaldo was governor. The machines were supposed to go into restaurants and taverns where they would attract a new class of lottery players -- yuppies, primarily -- who would sit, drink, "socialize" and gamble. (And the more they'd drink, the more they'd gamble.)

But it's obvious what's happening now: The state is going after that upscale chili-dog-at-the-Amoco-minimart crowd. I think Pete Rawlings, the state delegate, had it pegged in 1992 when he dismissed all that "socializing" malarkey and predicted Keno would be just like all the other lottery games, which tend to attract poor people in disproportionate numbers. ... By the way, the state of Maryland now counts on all lottery games to net $459 million for the state budget. In other words, we're hooked, and the hook is in deep.

Pain of losing Baines

Good that Eddie Murray is back with the Orioles, agrees TJI reader A. J. Kaplan. "But all this does is cover a monumental error that management committed when they severed ties with Harold Baines," A. J. says. "I don't recall any outcry when he departed, yet he is outhitting Murray this season by 40 points, has driven in more runs and has hit more homers. Talk about goofs."

Macadamian royalty

July's malaprop of the month (sorry we're late with this) slipped off the tongue of a news reader at WQSR-FM (105.7), who referred to a movie being made about Alexander the Great, the legendary "king of Macadamia." (We suspect the newsie meant Macedonia.) "I knew Alexander had a large empire," says TJI reader Bryan MacKay, who heard the slip. "But I had not idea it extended to Polynesia and Australia."

Pub Date: 8/02/96

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