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Editorial - Keep gambling at bay

September 23, 1997

For those who promote casino gambling, the natural competition between states is often their biggest ally. Now that Delaware's horse tracks have slot machines, the Maryland tracks - and those who hope to benefit from slot-machine revenue - are clamoring for the same thing. That's why we welcome the proposal from Maryland Del. John R. Leopold.

Leopold, a member of the state's 1995 gambling task force, wrote to Pennsyvalia Gov. Tom Ridge to promote the idea of working against gambling expansion on a regional basis. The idea came out of the task force's work, but for now, Ridge's spokesman says it isn't on his agenda.

If Delaware, Maryland, Pennyslvania and West Virginia could agree to oppose expansion of casino gambling, it would go a long way toward thwarting casino operators and people like Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, who sees gambling revenues as a way to lift many in his city out of poverty.

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Schmoke seems genuinely concerned about the poor, but the revenue promised by gambling advocates is often an illusion. In a 1995 report to the U.S. Senate, Sen. Paul Simon said that Wisconsin, with 17 Native American casinos, had reported net gains of $326 million in annual state revenues. But, Simon said, "when even the lowest estimated social costs of compulsive gambling are included in the calculations," the net dropped to $166.2 million.

Simon's report also noted that while less than one percent (.77 percent, actually) of the U.S. population is made up of compulsive gamblers, the percentage rises by two to seven times when a casino is located nearby.

That's what Leopold's proposal would do - keep casino gambling at a distance from those vulnerable to addiction. It would also make it clear that the four-state region wants businesses that produce something, as opposed to gambling, which Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Samuleson calls a "sterile transfer of money or goods between individuals that creates no new money or goods."

Simply stated, casino gambling is much more likely to consume wealth than create it. Gov. Ridge needs to take a serious look at Del. Leopold's proposal.

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