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Delegation must ensure that slots don't hurt tips

January 15, 2002

Delegation must ensure that slots don't hurt tips



Some Maryland lawmakers interested in expanding legalized gambling are rewriting an old proverb for the 2002 session, reasoning that if they don't succeed this time, losing now will make it easier to try, try again in the future. We hope local lawmakers will consider the effects on Washington County when they review this proposal.

Sponsored by Del. Howard P. Rawlings, the bill is crafted as a constitutional amendment, to rule out a veto by Gov. Parris Glendening, a staunch foe of gambling. As such, it would require a statewide referendum on whether slot machines would be allowed at the state's three existing horse tracks and a fourth planned for Allegany County.

Under Rawlings' proposal, half the proceeds would go to public schools and libraries, with the other half going toward improving purses and providing other improvements to Maryland's racing industry.

Getting the bill passed would require a supermajority of 60 percent in both the House and the Senate for passage, which is where it would probably get derailed. Although Glendening cannot veto the measure, his nearly total budget authority will make it difficult even for those who want to see the measure passed to support it.

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However, putting it out there this year will give Rawlings some indication of what future support he'll have and members will be able to hear testimony on how the plan would work. In 2003, with a new governor and what may be a continuing shortage of cash, the measure may be easier to pass.

Since Rawlings is from Baltimore, we expect the mechanism governing the distribution of funds will crafted to favor that city. More worrisome is the possibility that off-track betting - and slots - will be extended to other counties.

If that happens, there will be a decrease in the number of cash spent on tip jars here, much of which finds its way to local charities. Western Maryland may not be able to stop slot machines from being installed in the state's horse tracks, but confining them to those locations is essential.

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