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Editorial - Gambling's 'wild cards'

July 08, 1997

The Maryland state lottery produced a record $392 million in revenues during the last fiscal year. That's $27 million more than needed to balance the state's budget, and only about $500,000 short of what was needed for debt service on Baltimore's two pro sports stadiums. But like the state lawmakers who oversee the lottery, we'll hold off on any celebration for awhile.

Buddy Roogaw, the state lottery director appointed last October, is optimistic about continued growth. We might be too if it weren't for a few "wild cards" in this deck They include:

- Slot machines. The pressure to legalize them to help out the state's horse tracks is growing, with even state leaders like Attorney General Joe Curran, a staunch foe of slots, conceded last month that the pressure put on by other states' authorization of the one-armed bandits would probably lead to their approval in Maryland.

Where will slot-machine play leave the lottery? It's anybody's guess at this point.

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- Prince Georges County citizens' anger over the elimination of charity casino nights there, following discovery of abuses and skimming. With an election year coming and a tax cap already in place, P.G. will be looking for new revenue sources. If more cash doesn't come to their area from another part of the state budget, look for P.G. lawmakers to attempt to reauthorize casino nights, and to hold other legislation hostage to that effort.

We continue to believe that gambling, especially casino gambling is not a reliable source of state revenues, and that there are costs (bankruptcies, business fraud, etc.) associated with it that aren't easily calculated. There are also studies that indicate that when a casino-type facility opens, businesses in the surrounding areas (like restaurants) suffer.

That said, however, the state is unlikely to give up what is has now, because a voluntary game is easier to sell than a mandatory tax. Maryland has got enough gambling now and we urge lawmakers and citizens to be very skeptical of the idea that if some gambling is good, more would be even better.

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