The pros and cons of slots

Arceneaux: Slots would require higher taxes to pay for police and other hidden costs

October 12, 2008|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

Scott Arceneaux is a senior adviser to Marylanders United to Stop Slots, which opposes the ballot proposal. He is a veteran political strategist who managed several campaigns and was state Democratic Party executive director in his native Louisiana before moving to the Washington region in 2005 to lead the gubernatorial bid of former Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

How is the campaign going? Has any aspect surprised you?

Our side is passionate about the issue, and I think we are getting ready and fired up for Election Day. ... The fact that pro-slots advocates basically tried to game the system with the ballot language was not a big surprise. That we now see millions of dollars of gambling money coming into this state to try to pass this referendum in the last few weeks is not a surprise. And that they're trying to make this an issue about education and taxes when it's really about gambling is not a surprise.

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

It's going to be a net revenue loser for the taxpayers because it doesn't take into account any of the costs involved with slots. Slots are not a cost-free form of generating revenue for the state. And that's the dirty little secret that the pro-slots side doesn't really want to talk about.

When you make something that's illegal legal it comes with costs. There's going to be increases in crime and the need for additional police protection. There's going to be increased need for roads, extra fire protection, water infrastructure as well as increases in addiction, personal bankruptcies.

In these hard economic times, wouldn't legalizing slots create a new industry and jobs?

Economic downturns are temporary. Slots are forever. So are we saying that the next economic downturn, we're going to radically expand gambling because we want to try create jobs? Secondly, slots are the most labor-free form of gambling. You don't even have the change ladies anymore walking around casino floors. These are all electronic. They are run on credit cards.

Slots advocates often argue that gambling is already prevalent in society with the lottery and Keno. What do you say to people who say it's condescending or simply wrong to tell people how to spend their money?

Just because the lottery has been done doesn't mean we should compound the error. And if you do have a libertarian view of government and believe we should have a free-style economy, and we saw how that worked out on Wall Street, then that will lead, frankly, to legalized prostitution, full-scale casinos throughout the state.

Slots proponents are telling voters that this plan is needed to avoid future tax increases. You say that's not true. But what's the plan to address budget shortfalls?

Look, we are a ballot referendum committee. We are not in charge of governing the state of Maryland. Those are difficult decisions that are going to have to be made by the governor, who is trying to push slots, and others in Annapolis. We don't have all those answers.

But what we do know is that slots are not it. Slots would create an economy that we don't want here in Maryland. We want to be in a jobs race with Virginia and North Carolina, not in a gambling arms race with Delaware and West Virginia.

Some say the areas around West Virginia's Charles Town and Delaware Park have grown and developed economically since they allowed slots. Do you see a decline in the quality of life around those parks?

... You're looking at two places that are basically rural places where there weren't a lot of things going on to begin with. That's not the case in Maryland. It's one of the richest states in the country. We've got a thriving economy here. We've got major metropolitan areas.

Some regard the horse-racing industry as part of Maryland's fabric of life and that it needs slots revenue to survive. Do you think it's not worth saving?

I think the free-market economy and capitalism is tough. We love Seabiscuit. But unfortunately that industry has been on a decline and has been for years. ... Do I hope the industry survives? Absolutely. Do I think that doing a $100 million bailout for them is good public policy? No.

Do you gamble?

No.

Do you hit or stay on 16 in blackjack?

Umm. ... It depends on what the dealer has.

(Editor's note: Many experts say players should always hit on 16 unless they have two 8's, in which case they should split the cards to play two hands.)

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