Picture a half-dozen glittering, slot machine-filled casinos - built and owned by the state of Maryland - pumping a steady stream of cash straight into the state treasury.
To opponents, the idea is an impractical, ill-advised encroachment by government into the realm of private business. To supporters, it's a common-sense way to raise money for vital public programs without lining the pockets of politically connected developers and businesses.
It's a debate Marylanders are bound to hear more about as the state weighs again whether to legalize slot machine gambling and, if so, whether to let the government run the enterprise and keep the proceeds as it does with the lottery.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch has promoted state-owned casino-style facilities as an alternative to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s proposal to put slots at four racetracks.
The state would own the slots emporiums and pay casino industry experts a percentage of the profits to manage the operations.
And the state - rather than a few racetrack owners - would pocket most of the cash. Some of the money would be designated to boost racing and finance racetrack improvements.
"I don't think there's any reason we couldn't do it," said Busch, who is credited with derailing Ehrlich's "slots-at-tracks-only" plan in this year's legislative session.
He has talked about putting slots parlors in areas easily accessible to major highways and near the state's borders to attract out-of-state players.
Busch said he still thinks that using slots to raise revenue is poor public policy. But if slots become inevitable, he said, the state has to make sure it crafts the best deal for taxpayers.
Busch suggests the job of setting up slots casinos could be turned over to a state-created entity such as the Stadium Authority, which built and manages the $500 million, twin-stadium Camden Yards complex and oversees other building projects, such as the Comcast Arena at College Park. The facilities would be leased to whichever casino companies offer the best deal to operate them.
Would the idea work?
It already does in Canada, where the government builds casinos and pays marquee-name casino corporations a fee to run them. And there are similar deals in the United States that involve private-sector partners in casino ventures.
For example, owners of the Dover Downs racetrack in Delaware hired Las Vegas-based Caesars World to set up and manage their slots operation.
Many Indian tribes, too, have hired blue-chip casino companies to serve a similar role in developing and managing their gambling operations.
These deals look much different from Ehrlich's proposal for licensing slots at Maryland racetracks. It would have let racetrack owners keep 44 percent of all the money customers drop into the machines, minus payouts to winners. The state would have received 42 percent for education; the rest would have gone to purse funds, horsemen and other purposes.
In contrast, Dover Downs pays Caesars World a management fee of 16 percent of net profits, the amount left over after winners, vendors and all other expenses have been paid, according to a Dover Downs executive.
Of course, Dover Downs assumes the risks and headaches that come with operating a business. And the track's owners must pay all of the operating costs from their share - such as payroll expenses, security, equipment and marketing.
Still, Edward J. Sutor, the chief operating officer of Dover Downs, said the deal has worked out well for both parties.
"Both sides got value out of this thing," said Sutor. "We believe we have the finest and most well-run facility of its kind in the country. They [Caesars World] worked for two years before they got a nickel. They put a ton of investment in manpower time and energy up front to help build the facility."
But Sutor is skeptical that the same model would work as well with government as a partner. "I can't imagine the government operating something as sophisticated as this," he said.
But government does - just not in the United States.
Casino Windsor in Canada, just across the river from Detroit, has a contract with Las Vegas-based Park Place Entertainment, the corporate parent of Caesars Palace, to manage and oversee its government-owned casino.
In the original deal between the province of Ontario and Park Place Entertainment, the province agreed to pay Casino Windsor a management fee of 2.74 percent of the gross and 5 percent of net profits. The province pays payroll, marketing and all other operating costs from its share.
Ontario also allows slot machines at racetracks under a different business model that is designed to bolster the horse-racing industry.
Track owners serve as landlords, housing slot machines owned and run by the province and, in exchange, the tracks keep 10 percent of the gross and another 10 percent is designated to racing purses.
But some gambling experts question the ability of a government to run casinos efficiently and effectively.