Are slots `a bad bet'?

SATURDAY MAILBOX

January 04, 2003

Let's set aside our personal beliefs regarding the morality of slot machines ("A bad bet," editorial, Dec. 17). You and I may not like slot machines, but Maryland consumers (and voters) have been voting with their dollars. Every week, thousands of Marylanders are taking their gambling dollars outside the state. Who loses? Maryland and Baltimore.

If we allowed slot machines, we would keep that money, and millions more in tourism spending, in Maryland.

A recent study by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services showed that slots would generate nearly $160 million in their first year and more than $800 million a year at full operation (2,500 slots at each of four race tracks). In addition, slots could generate $380 million in one-time licensing fees.

And their return to the bettor is significantly higher than state-sponsored lottery and keno games.

Let us debate how slot facilities can be made aesthetically pleasing and how the revenues will be invested, while minimizing the negative impacts.

Let us earmark significant portions of the proceeds for important programs - education, neighborhood revitalization around Pimlico, Route 1 corridor redevelopment in Prince George's and Howard counties, race track and purse improvements, support for the horse breeding industry, expanding health care and prescription drug coverage to the uninsured and needy and social programs that can reduce crime, addiction and bankruptcy. Slots may even enable Maryland to afford a pay raise for state employees.

But raising taxes, especially in a competitive environment, would be irresponsible.

It is true that "you can't gamble your way to fiscal health." But, more important, you can't gamble Maryland's economic future by raising taxes, cutting back needed state services, cutting aid to local governments and laying off state workers.

Pradeep Ganguly

Glenn Dale

How can The Sun write an editorial on slots without mentioning the drain on Maryland revenues from slots in neighboring states?

West Virginia and Delaware are picking our pockets, and we can't afford it.

David F. Greene

Lutherville

I applaud The Sun for its editorial pointing out the real costs of using slots to solve Maryland's budget shortfall.

As The Sun has reported, to generate the $800 million annually the state hopes to realize "would require at least 2,500 slot machines at each of four horse tracks - in spaces roughly the size of Wal-Mart stores. And it would require traffic planning and enough parking to accommodate thousands of patrons at each location every day" ("Ehrlich's slots plan is viable, some say," Oct. 28).

The financial and social costs of implementing this slots scheme would far outweigh its return.

Susan Norris Rose

Columbia

I applaud The Sun's editorial "A bad bet."

It is incumbent upon our incoming leadership to realize, as The Sun does, that "casino operators ... know how to get other people's money, and they aren't renowned for contributing a whole lot to pockets other than their own."

Amy Carroll

Timonium

I can't believe the chutzpah The Sun had to run the editorial "A bad bet." We just held an election where the people spoke. And what they said was: "We want slots. You've already taxed the heck out of us, and we've had enough."

The argument about the downside of slots holds no water when you consider that many of the Delaware and West Virginia slots customers come from Maryland.

This tells me we are already getting a big chunk of the downside of slots, but none of the upside.

Maryland was once among the top five states in horse racing. Because of our tracks' inability to obtain slots and compete on a level playing field with tracks that allow them, we have slipped out of the top 10 and could slip further.

Having the Preakness here is like playing the Super Bowl in Maryland every year. But if we let racing die, the Preakness will go with it.

And in spite of the departing governor's efforts to stem sprawl, it continues unabated. If horse racing dies, hundreds of acres of pasture land will become housing developments.

And I think the argument that once slots are in, full-fledged casinos will not be far behind is untrue.

Horse racing cannot compete with casino gambling. It is absurd to think we would use slots to save racing, then turn around and kill it off by allowing casino gaming.

Steven Davidson

New Windsor

Tax increases can be rescinded. Unfunded programs can be re-funded later. Government efficiencies will pay dividends for years. But allowing slots is like opening Pandora's box - and we'll never get it closed.

Furthermore, slots cost state and local governments more than they generate in revenue (when the problems they create are factored in), and they won't be functioning in time to help solve the current budget shortfall anyway.

Dan Bierly

Baltimore

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