Saturday Mailbox

November 10, 2007

Slots referendum an effort to evade

The deficit iceberg has been looming on the horizon for some time now. As we prepare for its inevitable impact, Gov. Martin O'Malley and state House Speaker Michael E. Busch are embracing the idea of allowing the passengers on the Titanic to decide their own fate through a referendum, thereby absolving themselves of some of the responsibility for the mess likely to ensue ("Miller gives slots a boost," Nov. 6).

The reality of the state's current financial situation will undoubtedly lead to tax increases during the special session.

However, unless these come as part of a comprehensive belt-tightening program that embraces alternative funding sources (i.e., slots), we'll have accomplished nothing.

Mr. O'Malley did not create the state's budget problem. But he apparently overlooked it during the election campaign just one year ago, when he was figuratively promising a college education to every child who could push a piece of furniture to within reaching distance of a sheepskin hanging on a wall.

Today, he speaks of, among other things, closing Maryland State Police barracks to help close the budget gap.

However, the governor and members of the House of Delegates and the state Senate asked for the privilege of representing our interests and were elected to do so.

Voter referendums are a perversion of the process of representative government and a convenient way for leaders to dodge a polarizing issue.

If the special session is to be worthwhile, a compromise on slots will have to be reached before it ends.

To wait and resolve the slots issue through a referendum next year would be irresponsible and unrealistic.

Robert Winchester

Odenton

Targeting slots sites is simply unfair

Across Maryland, legislators, community leaders and voters are contemplating legalizing slots. Yet simultaneously, many elected leaders, including Gov. Martin O'Malley, are trying to distance themselves from this expansion of gambling by proposing a voter referendum to decide the issue ("Miller gives slots a boost," Nov. 6).

I think legalizing slots would be bad public policy because of the well-documented economic and social ills associated with gambling. But holding a referendum on the current proposal would be still worse, because it could allow jurisdictions across Maryland to impose slots' negative impacts on five selected jurisdictions.

What could be more unfair than to allow voters from counties such as Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery to balance our collective state budget by imposing expanded gambling on legislative districts such as mine (District 21), which includes Laurel Park?

For the sake of fairness, let the vote be about allowing slots anywhere in Maryland.

Whether it's a voter referendum or a normal legislative decision, the slots bill we consider should allow slots in any commercial establishment.

Allowing slot machines in any commercially zoned area would maximize revenue for the state.

Just as important, it would allow an equitable decision by the state's electorate - a decision each legislator or voter could make facing relatively equal ramifications.

Only when we have a vote for unrestricted slot machines across Maryland can a truly equitable debate begin.

Todd Reitzel

Beltsville

Racing commission isn't honest broker

I'm troubled by the wild rhetoric of Maryland Racing Commission Chairman John Franzone (The industry is "in a crisis situation. ... This is like being in the gas chamber") and the unwillingness of the commission to carry out its proper regulatory and investigatory functions ("Laurel to feel cuts in winter," Oct. 24).

Instead of being a mouthpiece for the thoroughbred track owners and the horsemen's union, the commission should be bringing calm and rationality to the situation.

A dispassionate look at handle and takeout figures would show that the Laurel Park winter and summer meets are not profitable and thus should be canceled until adequate purse money becomes available.

The commission should allocate approximately 40 days of racing for the Pimlico Race Course spring meet, 40 days for Laurel Park's autumn meet and a week of racing for the State Fair in Timonium, and that is all.

This would be a proper check on the excesses of some in the Maryland horse industry who seem to think there's a constitutional right to conduct year-round racing regardless of the economic costs or to the damage to animals and human competitors.

Commissioners also should be investigating possible mismanagement that led to an alleged $3 million "shortfall" in the thoroughbred purse account ("Horsemen enjoy Laurel - at least for this meet," Sept. 5).

They should be looking into whether past promises from the industry about improvements to racing properties and promotions have been kept, and reporting on all of this to the General Assembly.

Commissioners should leave their emotions at the door and be an honest broker among racing interests and between racing interests and lawmakers.

Otherwise, they should step down.

James Mosher

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