The pros and cons of slots

Puddester: Without slots, Marylanders will face budget cuts and increased taxes

October 12, 2008|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

Frederick W. Puddester is chairman of For Maryland For Our Future, a pro-slots ballot committee. Puddester was state budget secretary under former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, and is an associate dean for finance and administration at the Johns Hopkins University. Gov. Martin O'Malley, a slots supporter, named Puddester chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority last year.

How is the campaign going and what aspect of it has surprised you?

The campaign is going very well. We built a broad-based coalition - teachers, labor, the business community and policemen - so our ability to get our message out is enhanced and I think it's working.

I have been a bit surprised by many of [the] anti-slots proponents' unwillingness to discuss the alternatives to Question 2 because there are only two alternatives: budget cuts and increased taxes.

If you had to pick one reason, why should people vote for the slots proposal?

But for [slots], taxes will be increased on people who currently paying $4 a gallon for gasoline and who have had the price of their homes and the value of their 401Ks go down significantly this month.

Many people who take a pro-slots position - including Gov. Martin O'Malley - have admitted a personal discomfort with expanding state-sponsored gambling. What do you say to people who find morally offensive the notion of government banking on people gambling their money away?

I never challenge anyone who has a philosophical or religious opposition to this proposal. I do, however, challenge them to tell the citizens what the alternatives are.

You are asking voters to approve the establishment of five slots casinos across the state, yet the state has undertaken no study to predict the economic impact on these locations. Isn't it irresponsible for government to propose establishing major casinos without studying the consequences?

I think we know the consequences. I think all we need to do is look at facilities in Delaware and West Virginia, which are very similar to those under proposal here, and you in fact see additional economic development.

Your Web site, formaryland.org, highlights three "facts" about the slots referendum. Let's take them in turn: First, you make the argument that legalizing slots will produce "stronger Maryland schools" because more than $600 million annually could eventually flow into an education trust fund. But couldn't the legislature simply decide to replace money it currently spends on education with slots revenue - effectively eliminating any positive impact on education funding?

Here are the facts. The constitutional amendment provides for an educational trust fund to be set up to receive proceeds from slots facilities. That will eventually be in the neighborhood of $660 million.

If you look at projections of education spending going forward - based on inflation and enrollment - education funding will increase by two to three hundred million a year for the next several years under the current formula. So we are going to need every nickel of this $660 million.

Second, you strongly imply that voting for slots means "no tax increases." Of course, the legislature can raise taxes whenever it likes. What guarantee is there that it won't, especially given the current economic situation?

I'd ask the question in a different way. If we are to generate $660 million from this proposal, it is less likely that another option - raising taxes - will be necessary. The opposite is also true, if this proposal goes down and we're short $660 million, the likelihood of additional taxes and budget cuts go up significantly. So to argue that we don't need this money, when our education budget is going up and our revenues are challenged right now, just doesn't pass the elementary school arithmetic test.

Finally, you seek to reassure voters that additional expansion of gambling - either to more locations, or to full-blown casinos - is unlikely because any "slippery slope" would require an additional constitutional amendment. But the Maryland Constitution is up for amendment now. Why is it unlikely that it will be again?

... The fact is, it is difficult to amend the Constitution. It requires a super-majority vote by the General Assembly and approval by the voters. The fact is, by putting it in the Constitution, it has made it much more difficult for future expansions of gambling.

Do you hit or stick at 16 on blackjack?

I don't know. I guess I'll have to watch ESPN's poker show to answer that question.

Frederick Puddester will debate Aaron Meisner of StopSlotsMaryland at 10:30 a.m. today at Har Sinai Congregation, 2905 Walnut Ave., Owings Mills.

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