Think big! Imagine slots in libraries, bars, rest stops ...

This Just In...

January 29, 2003|By DAN RODRICKS

NATHANIEL J. McFadden, the senator from East Baltimore and majority leader of the state Senate, said of slot machines and casino gambling in Maryland: "It doesn't have to be just at tracks. It may go beyond slots. It may be gaming. If we're going to do it, do it right." Which was another way of saying: "Hey, you casino guys, bar owners and hotel developers -- here I am, show me the money!"

McFadden couldn't have done more to attract future campaign contributions had he worn a Velcro suit to Bruce Bereano's next bull roast.

Does this man know how to ring the chow bell or what?

Ka-ching!

But McFadden deserves praise for raising the debate about legalized casino-style gambling to another level. He's asking us to think big!

When you start dissecting the whole thing -- the proposal to concentrate thousands of slot machines at a few racetracks with the idea of saving the Maryland racing industry and balancing the state budget -- you start seeing all kinds of thorny angles.

Does the racing industry need and deserve this kind of rescue? If so, isn't the proposed remedy a bit over the top? For the purpose of balancing the budget, wouldn't a modest tax increase in the nation's fifth-wealthiest state make more sense, in the short term, than legalizing slots? Do we really need to exploit more people with more legalized gambling in order to get the budget in the black?

If so, then why couldn't the state just buy and operate slot machines? Why share the profits with racetrack and casino interests?

And then there's the issue McFadden raises -- if we are going to have more gambling, then why just slots, and why just at racetracks?

I want to thank the senator for having the courage to ask: Why should the Inner Harbor be off limits?

When you're talking tourists, you're talking Inner Harbor.

The next time the Rouse Co. has a problem filling space in the Light Street Pavilion, what would make more sense -- to bring in another Honey Mustard & More franchise or a slot-machine parlor? I mean, we're talking revenue and entertainment.

Wouldn't the Hard Rock Cafe be just a little less been-there-done-that-got-the-T-shirt-and-the-pin boring with a couple of craps tables under the framed display of Brian Jones' pants?

And what about some video slots in the ESPN Zone? For many people, slipping coins into slot machines constitutes sport -- and their daily exercise.

I think McFadden has stumbled onto something here.

The Big John Hotel -- the one John Paterakis built at Inner Harbor East with a subsidy from the city -- has plenty of room for slots. Last time I was there, I crashed some kind of pharmaceutical convention and, boy, what a snore -- antidepressant and bladder-control samples everywhere. You can't tell me that visiting Ph.D.s wouldn't go for a little action at a $5 craps table in one of Big John's big ballrooms.

"If we're going to do it, do it right," McFadden said, and he's on the money, baby!

The Maryland Port Administration owns Baltimore's World Trade Center. The top floor has a wonderful view of the harbor. If you could go up there, throw back a couple scotches and play some black jack -- ooh, baby. A fella could start to feel like a Rat Packer.

There's historic Fort Carroll, out by the Key Bridge. It's just sitting there, a nesting area for herons. It would make a grand marina-casino complex. Bill Struever has a lease on the place. Somebody get Billy on the phone.

Why not make casino-style gambling as accessible to the public as possible?

Senior citizens love slots.

You can't tell me Roland Park Place and Charlestowne wouldn't put up cash-money for a few slots licenses. Those retirement communities are always advertising about graceful living, with all the amenities our seniors need. It's become a competitive market. But add slots and you have edge, baby. Retirees will be flocking to Maryland to live out their golden years with us.

Ka-ching!

People traveling over the Chesapeake Bay have to stop near Sandy Point and pay a toll before they cross the bridge. Why not install drive-by slot machines right there at the toll booths? You heard the expression "Save The Bay." This would be "Play The Bay." Drivers can get rid of their loose change and play the slots at the same time. In fact, we might see people driving over the bridge several times in a day -- just to gamble their dollars. And a piece of the take could be earmarked for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Do I hear any objections?

Rest stops on I-95 and I-70, the waiting booths at Maryland auto emission test stations -- slot machines don't take up that much room, you could put them in all these places. Bars, restaurants, your local Chuck E. Cheese -- come on, people, let's think big!

Thank you, Senator.

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