Safe bet

June 09, 2005

PSST ... WANNA sure thing with the slot machines? No, we don't mean putting money into them. That would be a sucker's bet.

And don't count on slots for tax relief. Just look at the mess across the state line in Pennsylvania. (More on that later.)

What we're talking about is the most solid of all possible bets: lobbying for slots in Annapolis.

For three straight legislative sessions now, slots lobbyists have failed to get what their clients want. But that hasn't stopped them from hitting the jackpot year after year after year.

According to an analysis of State Ethics Commission data by The Sun's David Nitkin, Maryland lobbyists have taken in more than $6 million from gambling interests since November 2003.

That's more than $3 million for the 2003 legislative session, according to the commission's annual report. Followed by more than $2 million for 2004 and $1.5 million for 2005, according to Mr. Nitkin's tabulations.

Annual slots lobbying bills are dropping - perhaps because of three successive defeats in the General Assembly - but it's still a very lucrative game.

Even with the reduced spending on lobbying, Alan M. Rifkin, among the more prominent advocates in the Annapolis lobbying core, took in more than $350,000 from gaming interests in the six months to April 30.

Compare that with spending for lobbying on the other side of the issue, where the only anti-gambling lobbyist, W. Minor Carter, billed $3,000 during the last legislative session from Stop Slots Maryland, $10,000 the year before and $15,000 in 2003. That's $28,000 in all.

David may be restraining Goliath so far, but - no matter the outcome - big spending on lobbying by the gambling industry seems a certainty.

In Pennsylvania last year, for example, the state legislature approved as many as 61,000 slot machines and $1 billion in school tax relief. A year later, a legal challenge to the way that slots law was passed may cause it to be struck down. And because the tax relief promise is such a tangle, only a fifth of all Pennsylvania school districts opted by last week's deadline to receive the money.

Harrisburg legislators may end up having to take another whack at it - not at all a bad outcome for Pennsylvania lobbyists, who may be able to extend their billing through a second writing of a slots bill.

Similarly, in Maryland, continued defeat of slots brings the certainty of more lobbying fees. And victory? It would just set off a whole new round of lobbying to protect and expand the state-licensed franchises.

This year's slots lobbying bills only underscore that Annapolis lobbyists are among the very few winners when it comes to slots. Slots players will lose. Benefits for taxpayers, as in Pennsylvania, may be uncertain. But you can safely bet that the lobbyists, one way or another, will continue to rack up big fees.

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.