More gambling is no fix for state coffers

February 20, 1997|By Christopher J. McCabe

LIKE FREDDY KRUEGER in the ''Friday the 13th'' movies, no matter how many times we kill the monster of casino-style gambling, it is revived for another sequel.

In early 1995, casinos and riverboats were voted down by the House Judiciary Committee. In late 1995, a state task force rejected both casinos and slot machines at Maryland racetracks and off-track betting parlors. A similar measure to legalize slots was nevertheless offered to the House Ways and Means Committee in 1996, and it, too, was rejected.

This year, gambling proponents offer slot machines, owned by the Maryland Lottery, as a ''painless'' revenue source to fund a 10 percent reduction in the state income tax while assisting the racing industry. The governor has promised a veto, but the well-financed casino interests will continue to try to convince 188 legislators in Annapolis that slots can fund our priorities.

But slots are not ''painless.''

Slot machines are widely recognized as the most addictive form of gambling. In South Dakota, nearly 8,000 video slot machines owned by the state lottery were shut down by court order for three months in 1994. During that time. according to a Veterans rTC Administration study, there was a 99 percent drop in calls to gambling-addiction treatment centers and a 93 percent drop in the number of those treated for gambling addiction. This reduction occurred despite the continued availability of other lottery games, as well as tribal casinos, in South Dakota.

The Iowa experience

Iowa is the only state with a ''before and after'' study of gambling addiction. That state has riverboat casinos where more than 90 percent of the money bet is on slot machines. It also has slots at the racetracks. In 1989, before the slot machines, only 1.7 percent of Iowa adults were gambling addicts. A study six years later 1995 found that 5.4 percent of the state's adults were addicted: The legalization of slots had than trebled the addiction problem.

Addiction is one side effect of casino-style gambling. Another is the associated crime and corruption. Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. concluded that casinos would bring more violent crime, more crime against property, more insurance fraud, more white-collar crime, more juvenile crime, more drug- and alcohol-related crime, more domestic violence and child abuse, and more organized crime.

Profits to the mob

In Louisiana, video slot-machine interests conspired to corrupt key lawmakers, and more than a dozen people pleaded guilty after an investigation found that a video slot company was sending ''profits into the coffers of the Marcello, Genovese and gambling mob families,'' according to the report by Mr. Curran's office.

In 1995, the same horse-racing interests now pushing slot machines testified against them. Just two years ago, when the debate over riverboat gambling began, the racing industry fought against it. In testimony it argued that gambling would harm all types of local businesses: ''The riverboats don't necessarily stimulate demand for entertainment; they replace something else: . . . $100 slipped into a slot machine is $100 that won't be spent on dining out or a movie, not money that would have gone into a savings account.''

The racing industry was right about slot machines in 1995. Slots will cannibalize local businesses. That's why the Restaurant Association of Maryland and other business groups are fighting against the proposal.

State leaders must evaluate what has happened around the country before taking any steps to expand the state's already large menu of legalized gambling. More gambling, in whatever form, is simply bad social and economic policy.

Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, R., Howard/Montgomery, is co-founder of Marylanders Against Casinos.

Pub Date: 2/20/97

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