Dead on arrival

March 27, 2006

With apologies to the poet T. S. Eliot, this is the way the push for slots ends: not with a bang but a whimper.

The absence of any hue and cry was notably striking last week when Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller quietly pulled the plug on a slots bill - ending any drive to legalize the devices this legislative session before it even got off the ground.

This dead-on-arrival scenario was markedly different from the last three years when Mr. Miller and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. would have had us believe that Maryland could simply not survive another year without a big expansion of legalized gambling.

There are lots of plausible reasons for this, of course.

It's an election year. The General Assembly's plate is full with utility issues. The governor himself never worked that hard, if at all, for slots. He and Mr. Miller are now openly feuding. Last year, House Speaker Michael E. Busch cleverly used most communities' opposition to hosting the machines to block a Senate slots bill. And last but not least, the only good reason for slots - to raise state revenue - has been at least temporarily blunted by a budget surplus this fiscal year.

Still, the resounding lack of any public reaction to last week's death of slots legislation for the fourth year in a row underscores what we've been saying all along: This has been an issue drummed up to benefit special interests - mainly in the horse racing industry - without very much public interest at all.

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