Gambling stance poses dilemma for Glendening

July 28, 1998|By MICAHEL OLESKER

If a picture's worth a thousand words, then what's the value on a picture of a check for $18,000? Particularly if the man in the picture is a visibly delighted Gov. Parris N. Glendening, and the check's being handed to him by gambling interests?

As everybody knows, the governor of Maryland is fundamentally opposed to gambling of all sorts. It's in all his speeches and commercials and literature. Gambling's bad, but gambling as a political weapon is good, the governor seems to believe, and so the very centerpiece of his re-election campaign is his staunch disapproval of legalized gambling.

Except, of course, for the state lottery.

And thoroughbred horse racing.

And that business of Glendening telling Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke that slot machines at racetracks would be a fine way to raise money for public schools - before the governor had a case of instant amnesia.

And, except, of course, for those times when it might give Glendening an easy publicity boost to pose for a photograph looking charitable.

Thus, the photograph in question. In the years when Glendening was Prince George's County executive, on through his first year as governor, his home county had charitable gambling casinos. The casinos were sending helpful money all over the place, and various politicians were happy to play public middlemen at photo sessions and make themselves look benevolent in the process.

Hence, we have this photograph of an enlarged $18,000 check handed to the governor of Maryland by people from the Charity Gaming Coalition of Prince George's County in 1995, not long before Glendening had a change of political conscience, declared that gambling was now bad, and closed down all charity gambling in May 1997.

The photo of Glendening and the big check ran on the front page of a one-issue, 12-page newspaper called the Coalition Ledger, published by the Charitable Gaming Association in January 1997.

The newspaper was a last-gasp attempt by Prince George's gambling interests to cry out, "Wait a minute! What about all the good we've done?" And, not to put too fine a point on it, to say, "What about all the money we've handed Parris Glendening, who's now killing us?"

In the photograph, Glendening and his wife, Frances Hughes Glendening, are receiving this $18,000 on behalf of the Prince George's County Hotline and Suicide Prevention Center. It's part of a pattern, which the governor currently rejects. The pattern was: Charity gambling interests in Prince George's County raised very large sums of money for needy organizations while Glendening was running the county and then running the state.

In fact, the photo of the $18,000 check is not exactly isolated. Throughout the gaming association newspaper are photos and stories of large checks being handed by gambling interests to needy charities and individuals: $25,000 to a little girl who needs a life-saving operation; $100,000 to county fire departments; $15,000 to the victims of the Oklahoma City courthouse bombing; $37,000 to county police for new cruisers; and hundreds of thousands more to hospitals and youth clubs and churches and other organizations.

Not to mention, about $5.2 million in taxes paid by the charity casinos that year.

Thus, the Parris Glendening dilemma. Whatever the governor's actual feelings about gambling - distinguished from his political feelings - he knows about the financial benefits. The lottery, for example, brings in huge millions to state coffers. Thoroughbred racing brings in more, and employs a sizable work force. Mayor Schmoke's late-blooming appreciation for slot machines is the huge money they would generate for his underfunded, underperforming public schools.

Glendening knows all of this. If legalized gambling interests offered him another $18,000 check today - for another Suicide Prevention Center or any other worthwhile charity - would he take it, or turn it down? The lottery generates important money for charities, and so does horse racing. How is that different from any other legalized gambling - particularly because the slot machines now under scrutiny would be a form of gambling at sites where gambling already exists?

Glendening campaign officials said the governor was unavailable for comment yesterday, but campaign spokesman Peter Hamm said, "Yeah, there's a picture of the governor as part of a ceremony. There are probably dozens of photos similar to this, where funds are given to legitimate charities. Is this hypocritical? Not even slightly.

"The governor has never been opposed to reasonable charity casino nights, but he fought very hard year after year to put controls in Prince George's County after gambling got out of control. There was a potential for evil. It was no longer a fund-raiser in somebody's basement."

Some might point out: People don't raise $18,000 for charity in their basements. This was a big-time charity gambling operation - the Charity Gaming Coalition of Prince George's County - in which the governor happily took part to the extent that it brought him positive publicity. Now he seeks publicity taking the opposite point of view.

Pub Date: 7/28/98

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