Memo to gambling interests: Keep slots out of Western Md.

January 08, 1998|By John N. Bambacus

SOME BAD ideas just won't die. No matter how many times the majority of good citizens of Allegany County and Western Maryland tell the gambling proponents: ''Get thee behind us,'' the gambling men just don't know ''when to fold 'em.''

OTB planned

With last week's disclosure that an off-track betting parlor is planned for Allegany County, we can paraphrase former President Ronald Reagan's famous line: ''There they go again.'' Local self-dealers and politicians are continuing their efforts to sneak in casino-style gambling disguised to save the horse racing industry in Maryland and to bring in jobs.

Like addicts lining up for free narcotics, short-sighted local officials are ''buying in'' to this transparent promise of gambling skim going into government coffers. I hope the people here won't be drawn into those bogus statistical arguments done by some economists and others and offered for public consumption by big gambling backers.

Well, gentlemen, you think we are a simple people, but we are not stupid. We are well aware that nationally, as well as in Maryland, there is a widely reported campaign to expand traditional race track wagering to include slot machines. We know that all over the country expanded casino gambling has started with slots at race tracks.

The issue for our region is more fundamental than the economic fantasies by which local officials are seduced into ignoring reality and our wishes, while they give in to the entreaties and favors of the gambling men and their hired politicians. The issue is about goodness.

We are not talking about small-time charitable or fraternal club raffles and such that support our firehouses and schools. We're talking big time. By promising instant riches, the gamblers sell empty dreams. The house always wins. They take big money out of the pockets of a community and send it into the pockets of a few wealthy corporate operators and private interests outside of Maryland.

We who love our communities are working hard to grow good businesses to enhance, not destroy, our people.

A recent Harvard University report on gambling found that expansion of organized gambling has resulted in a rapid rise of gambling disorders -- nearly 50 percent in the past 20 years.

Big-time gambling, whether the casino is a stand-alone facility or camouflaged as an off-track betting parlor, is bad public policy. By transferring scarce ''discretionary income'' from our citizens and our local businesses into the off-shore accounts of faceless gambling corporations or greedy statewide private interests, expansion of organized gambling in a region is also unsound social policy.

Just because neighboring states are making bad gambling policies is not a reason for Western Maryland to allow exploiters to drag our values down.

Overwhelmingly, citizen response to me about this latest effort to bring gambling to Western Maryland is ''How can we kill this thing once and for all?'' My response: Demand honesty from local political officials and tell them to stop this exploitation of our public trust.

Rather than being seduced into selling the souls of our communities, local elected officials who continue to play secret games with gambling advocates and make these back-room deals must realize that the verdict is in.

A certain legacy

We deserve political leadership that respects our values and the legacy we desire to leave to future generations. Good jobs, clean communities, solid educational opportunities, optimism and growth are what we are pursuing. Building viable, adaptable 21st century communities takes time.

The proliferation of gambling is not a short cut to prosperity. Should over-the-counter betting operations and casino slot machines be the salvation of Maryland's horse racing industry? Not at the cost of our souls.

John N. Bambacus is mayor of Frostburg.

Pub Date: 1/08/98

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