Gambling without end

March 14, 2005

PRESSURES TO expand legal gambling in Maryland seem to have no end. And the curiously self-fulfilling logic behind them almost always appears to be the same: Maryland needs more gambling because there's more gambling - both in and out of state - in competition for Marylanders' money.

Even as the high-level political standoff over approving Las Vegas-style slot machines continues for a third consecutive legislative session in Annapolis, state lottery officials have been researching the possibility of jazzing up their games with machines that can look just like slots but internally operate much more like lotteries - with a fixed number of winners and prizes.

According to Sun reporter Andrew A. Green, Maryland lottery officials journeyed in January to New York racetracks to check out the operation of that sort of electronically delivered lottery system. In a separate interview last week, lottery director Buddy Roogow stressed that his agency is just properly staying abreast of its business and has "no grand strategy" to spread these slots-like lottery devices throughout the state - say, as a fallback plan in the event that the drive for real slots continues to falter.

On the other hand, Mr. Roogow acknowledged that the state lottery has been doing that research because the agency's seven games - from which the state now derives almost $500 million a year - are facing competition from slots parlors in West Virginia and Delaware, competition that will increase if real slots are approved in state. And in any case, Mr. Roogow says, today's lottery players need more bells and whistles to keep playing, so he won't rule out the possibility of slots-like lottery devices some day proliferating - like the lottery's Keno game - at hundreds of convenience sites throughout Maryland.

Such competitive pressures for new and more alluring opportunities to gamble even extend to bingo halls. In Anne Arundel County last week, the County Council voted to raise the maximum prizes allowed at legal bingo halls from just $15,000 to as much as $300,000 to help the halls compete with gambling in other states and the possible arrival of slots here.

Round and round it goes, but where does this race to the bottom end?

In West Virginia, for example, operators of more than 10,000 slot machines at four racetracks are trying to counter the coming of 61,000 legal slots to Pennsylvania by legalizing casino-type games such as roulette and blackjack. Delaware, too, is trying to figure out if it needs to have more than slots once Pennsylvania joins the gambling race.

You might think that such pressures would abate when a state ends up saturated with gambling, as in Nevada, where almost $11 billion was lost by gamblers last year and where the state government relies on gambling and tourism for half its funds. But some Nevada legislators are now talking about eliminating a 140-year ban on a state lottery. And get this: They're arguing for a lottery because it's considered a more stable revenue source than casinos.

The lesson for Maryland is clear: No matter how the current Annapolis standoff over slots turns out, Marylanders are going to keep having to fend off unending pressures for more and more gambling.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.