Gambling was the death of Detroit: Will Baltimore be next?

August 24, 2012

In his recent commentary, Paul Davies laid out the ludicrousness of Maryland politicians' accelerated push to expand gambling in the state ("Gambling: still morally bankrupt," Aug. 23). They don't even have revenue coming in from all the currently authorized casino venues, yet they can't seem to legalize more sites fast enough.

Next will be Internet gambling, so that people can have a couple of drinks at home and then make stupid decisions with a couple of clicks that impair them financially for years. The gaming industry preys upon the vulnerable and it is an incredible mechanism for diverting wealth from those who can least afford it to the 1 percent.

I'm from Detroit, and about 10 years ago the gambling industry saw fertile ground in that city. The economy was in the tank, having been in the process of collapse for decades along with the auto industry. Detroit's political leaders were desperate for income, and the city had a huge poverty problem.

The politicians' solution was to turn the city over to the gambling industry. Within a few years there were three giant casino projects built in downtown Detroit, and I'm not talking about some little deal like the Cordish Co. put up at Arundel Mills. I'm talking three Las Vegas-style casinos put up by heavyweight Las Vegas gambling moguls in the central business district of the city.

I remember reading that these were initially some of the most profitable properties in their portfolios. But I don't know whether the city ever realized the projected income it was supposed to receive from the sites.

What I do know is that it didn't solve any of Detroit's major financial problems and that the city continued its downhill financial slide. Today it is bankrupt and fighting to stave off a state takeover.

My guess is that, on the individual level, gambling exacerbates the lack of adequate income already faced by a huge portion of the population. The result is lower tax receipts and more dependence on government programs.

I have read various studies on the impact of gambling on urban areas and not one of them concluded that it has been positive. Mr. Davies outlines the situation in Delaware and accurately points out "that the lawmakers are just like addicted gamblers who chase their losses." This couldn't be more true, and it looks like Maryland's politicians are no different than those of Detroit and Delaware.

Warren Buffett has called gambling "a tax on ignorance." Propagating gambling is an expression of moral bankruptcy, and if you don't believe that you probably haven't seen any pictures of Detroit lately.

Gary Moyer, Baltimore

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