In a world where political ads have taken over

Question 7 brings Maryland a taste of election year air wars

September 22, 2012|By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun

With about a month to go before Election Day, I know it won't be long before the commercials get even more ominous. Any day now, I'm sure I'll see one that starts, in that scary-movie-trailer voice, "In a world in which …"

I can even provide the rest of the ad copy:

For the vote-yes-on-Question-7 set: "In a world in which gambling isn't expanded in Maryland, unemployment will rise to new heights and those out of work will sink to new lows. They will be so desperate to feed their families, there isn't anything they won't do …"

For the anti- side: "In a world in which gambling interests run wild from Rocky Gap to Ocean City, or at least from National Harbor to Rosecroft, there will still be no money for education. Children will go to schools that have no books, teachers will beg from street corners …"

As The Baltimore Sun has been reporting, supporters and opponents of expanding gambling in Maryland are expected to spend close to $20 million in a war of persuasion over Question 7 on the November ballot — more than over the last gubernatorial race, in fact.

Much of that is for the ads that already seem to be running nonstop — except for the occasional relief of a Rob Sobhani spot — on why you should or shouldn't vote for a sixth casino and table games for all.

I guess this is what it's like to live in a swing state, or somewhere that the super PACs can spend any amount they want to call their opponents kitten torturers or salsa double-dippers or whatever. I didn't realize until this year that in Maryland, there's no limit to the amount that can be spent on issue campaigns.

Which means that we have our own air war over Question 7, courtesy of the seemingly bottomless pockets of casino interests that are lining up — on both sides of the issue.

Does that surprise you? Did you think the question was new casino or no new casino? Poker or no poker?

No, the real question is: MGM Resorts or Penn National Gaming? It's become their fight more than ours.

In our long-running and never-ending agita over gambling, we're at the point where the fight is basically which company gets to rake it in. Whatever battle we were fighting over gambling is over; the casinos are just fighting over the spoils.

So this time around, we have MGM wanting to open a casino at the National Harbor complex in Prince George's County. And on the other, we have Penn National, which has a slots parlor in Perryville and a big casino in nearby Charles Town, W.Va. — and dreams of a casino in its Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George's.

They're not the only gambling interests with skin in the game — Caesars Entertainment, which has an affiliate that has the license for the still-unbuilt Baltimore City slots parlor, has also kicked in more than $1 million in support of the gambling expansion because they wouldn't mind some table game action as well. Throw in a bit from developers and unions who stand to benefit from expanded gambling, and you're talking some real money, to influence legislators who met in special session to put the issue up for referendum as well as the current ad war.

The ads, of course, play out civic- rather than business-minded. There's concern over jobs and education funding, or outrage over secret meetings and tax breaks. Pay no attention to the scuffling behind the curtain of a bunch of gambling companies fighting among themselves.

There are no doubt some real issues that should concern real voters in the matter of Question 7. But somehow, this seems like a fight I'm watching from the sidelines. Or rather, on TV.

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