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Editorial - Before we okay slots...

October 10, 1997

Maryland state lawmakers toured the Charles Town Races this week, as a prelude to what is certain to be another attempt to legalize slot-machine gambling in Maryland. By all accounts, they seemed impressed with the renovated track and the number of Marylanders' cars they saw in the parking lot. It's what they didn't see that concerns us.

The tour included about 30 Maryland lawmakers and aides, who are considering legalizing slot machines to help bail out Maryland's horse tracks.

Del. Sheila Hixson, D-Montgomery, said the state must do something because in addition to Charles Town's video-lottery machines, the Delaware tracks also have slot-type games. And said Hixson, some of Maryland's tracks could use the sort of facelift that Charles Town has undergone.

Yes, renovations are nice, but at what price to the citizens of Maryland? In this space we recently reviewed the 1995 gambling report of U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, D-Illinois. In it, he pointed out that normally, less than one percent of the U.S. population suffers from gambling addiction. When casino-type facilities are nearby, however, that figures jumps by two to seven times.

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Simon's report told of bankruptcies, employee thefts and suicides as a result of addictive gambling. But aside from that, before gambling is expanded again in Maryland, two questions must be answered.

Will expanded gambling at horse tracks cut into state lottery revenues that Maryland now counts on as part of its general fund budget? And more important, if the state is going to allow this, will it create more good jobs and prosperity for Maryland, or, as Gov. Parris Glendening says, will it only "churn" Marylanders' money, leaving everyone poorer in the process?

Once gambling is approved, prohibiting it again will be nearly impossible to do. Maryland lawmakers need to look beyond the glitz to see if it's what the state really wants or needs.

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