Don't gamble away Maryland's future

January 23, 2004|By Douglas M. Duncan

AS LAWMAKERS in Annapolis begin their work, Maryland finds itself at a crossroads. Our senators and delegates will face many issues over the next 90 days, but none is more critical to shaping the future of our state than whether to legalize slot machine gambling.

The supporters of slots are gearing up for another attempt to send Maryland down a very slippery slope. And once again, Marylanders must ask themselves: What kind of community do you want to live in 10 or 20 years from now?

My answer is that I want to live in a community that has a long-term economic development strategy to attract the world's best and brightest and doesn't have to rely on people cashing in their Social Security checks at slot machine palaces. I don't want to live in a state with casinos in every county and a state that balances its budget by adding 1,000 new slot machines each year.

Don't think for a moment that it couldn't happen. Casino interests around the country are eagerly watching us. For once you allow slot machine palaces, casinos are not far behind. Every time another challenging budget comes around, it will be too easy to just add a blackjack table here and a roulette wheel there. If we approve slot machine gambling, we guarantee that, over time, we will have casinos in every county in Maryland.

Twenty years from now, we don't want to look back and regret what we allowed to happen. Many who so looked forward to the legalization of gambling in Atlantic City, N.J., now regret the day they approved it. Why? Because if you look past the glitz and glamour of the casinos, all you see are pawnshops, strip clubs and vacant buildings. An entire generation has grown up there knowing that if you want to stay and live in your hometown, you better be able to deal cards or empty coins out of one-armed bandits.

Is this the kind of economic development we want for Maryland?

Our state has too much to build on to take the easy way out. We have one of the most educated work forces in the nation, we have world-class higher education and research institutions, and we are among the world's top technology and life science centers. This is the foundation we need to build on. This is how we can ensure the future growth and prosperity of our state.

The seeds have already been sown, but it will take vision and commitment to help them grow. Montgomery County is the nation's third-largest biotechnology center. But this didn't happen by accident. Twenty years ago, county leaders took the historic step of creating the nation's first research park dedicated solely to bioscience. Now we have a thriving industry and the world-renowned Shady Grove Life Sciences Center, where we hope that one day a small start-up company will discover cures for heart disease and cancer.

This success can be and should be duplicated across the state. Technology is the type of industry that will provide our children high-quality, high-paying jobs and keep Maryland growing.

I realize that this is not the easy road to take. It's not the quick-fix solution to today's problems, and it requires real leadership. No smoke and mirrors. No fancy footwork and no flash. Hard decisions and tough choices will have to be made. It all comes down to the questions: What kind of community do you want to live in, and what kind of state do we want Maryland to be in the future?

We cannot afford to fall prey to the siren call of the quick fix. The stakes are just too high. I know we can all work together to make Maryland a state that is grounded in economic and social justice for all, with a world-class educational system from kindergarten to university, with a flourishing economy based on cutting-edge technologies. Without a doubt, the nation's best place to live, work and raise a family.

But we will not get there by gambling our future away.

Douglas M. Duncan is the executive of Montgomery County.

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