False promise

March 25, 2003

CITY LEGISLATORS should vigorously oppose Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s effort to put slot machines at Pimlico Race Course.

Slots would almost surely victimize the economically fragile neighborhoods around this northwest Baltimore track. More gambling doesn't represent progress. Casinos drive out legitimate businesses looking for a healthy climate not usually associated with gambling. A "racino" could suck even more of this poor neighborhood's lifeblood. New development? Forget it.

Of course, some neighborhood residents do want slots. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings says they see gambling as "the only legal way to get rich quick. I hear that over and over. " It's the kind of desperate hoping that enriches a few at the expense of many.

Some additional impact aid money for Baltimore was written into a Senate-passed slots bill, but it's not nearly enough at $27.3 million - less than half what the city would have to shell out for infrastructure improvements. And now, as the governor attempts to attract votes for his bill, other jurisdictions could offer votes in exchange for some of the city's share.

But there is little likelihood that Baltimore will be held harmless - financially or from the inevitable increases in crime.

Casinos throughout North America, particularly in urban areas, have led to increases in prostitution, rape and assault. Prostitution arrests doubled in some communities.

In our own state, when slots were legal in Southern Maryland, worries about organized crime and corruption led to making them illegal in 1963.

Increased alcohol dependency and gambling addiction are too easily dismissed by pointing to funds provided for treatment. But why invite these disabling conditions?

Now, on the theory that slots may eventually pass, Mayor Martin O'Malley is working to get the best deal for Baltimore. Mr. Ehrlich has said the city will get "reasonable" assistance with road and traffic problems that will surely come to a neighborhood that hopes to accommodate patrons for 3,500 machines operating virtually around the clock: 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. The mayor says he wants the governor's assurance of financial assistance in any law authorizing slots.

With about two weeks remaining in the General Assembly session, every legislator - and particularly those from Baltimore - must resist an air of resignation driven by the deep deficit that could sweep slots into law over the real misgivings of many.

The Assembly should listen to House Speaker Michael E. Busch and set slots aside, at the very least until there is a thorough study of their impact on Baltimore, the Pimlico neighborhood and Maryland.

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