That urge to gamble Local referendums: Casino supporters try to do end-run on General Assembly.

November 30, 1996

BACKERS OF expanded gambling in Maryland -- especially slot machines and casinos -- just won't give up. The latest ploy is to try to wrest decision-making away from opponents in Annapolis, who have the votes, and the veto power, to stop them cold.

Instead, gambling advocates want local referendums in counties where developers have proposed building lavish casinos and slot machine emporiums. "Let the people decide," is their refrain.

It sounds so appealing. Let home rule rule. But what would be the ramifications of such a move?

If Cambridge politicians got their wish, voters in Dorchester County would decide whether Harvey's Resorts could build a $106 million gambling mecca on the Choptank River. And if local politicians in Allegany County got their wish, voters there would determine if unregulated slot machines ("video gambling") should saturate taverns and nonprofit clubs.

This would be the opening gambit, as counties and cities competed to rush into the casino and slots world. It would be chaos, with virtually no controls on corruption and criminal activity. For proof, you have only to look at the situation in Prince George's County, which has "nonprofit" casinos. There is widespread skimming of vast sums of money. Professionals run these "volunteer" operations. Oversight is pathetically weak.

That would be the future for Maryland if local referendums start to sprout up.

This is the classic technique of gambling promoters across the country. They know they can't win over a majority of state lawmakers or a majority of state voters. So they push for local referendums, where they can pour big bucks into local businesses and local politicians' campaign coffers to gain support. They promise Nirvana for local residents.

Expanding gambling is a serious, statewide question that can only be decided in the State House by our elected representatives. It is not simply a matter of "local control." A Cumberland slots casino or a Cambridge resorts casino would have impact far beyond those counties. That's why we have a state legislature, elected by citizens throughout Maryland. They are the ones -- the only ones -- who should decide whether it is wise to legalize slot machines in taverns and casinos across the state.

Pub Date: 11/30/96

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