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Gaming could have 'positive' effect on area

January 07, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

Quick, can someone round up a few nags and start running them in circles at the old Hagerstown Fairgrounds again? It looks as if slots are on the fast, um, track, and I think we should be lobbying for part of the action.

Yes, I want slots. I want our county to be overrun with little old ladies in tennis shoes and Photogray glasses, bused down from Asbury Park waddling around with their gin and tonics and their plastic cups full of quarters, complaining about the turkey gravy at the buffet line and the glare coming off the faux-chrome indoor fountain.

I just can't imagine anything better.

Besides, problem gambling and smoking are the only bad habits I've never gotten into, and I'm about ready to give one of them a run. Rampant gambling sounds like the better option. What are a few bounced checks if you've got good lungs? (Ever notice how it's called "gambling" when the casinos are advertising for customers, but when they are going for a community zoning variance it's called "gaming?")

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I bring all this up, because it looks as if slots in Maryland are a done deal, before the General Assembly is even called to order. Gov.-elect Bob Ehrlich says he will go ahead and put projected gambling revenues into a projected budget, which will give some lawmakers a projected fit, but leaves them pretty much powerless.

My guess - no, it's about 40 degrees north of a guess, bordering on petrified certainty - is that this session lawmakers will be hearing a lot of this from the E-man: "Yes, we would LOVE to build you a new elementary school and a new center for disadvantaged kittens and we will DO it too - so long as you vote in favor of slots."

In a pretty slick move, Ehrlich is sidestepping the whole slot-machine-referendum issue, by intertwining the issue with fiscal bills that legally cannot be taken to the people for a vote.

Thank goodness for that. If there's one thing I hate, it's a referendum. (Well, that and VH1's 100 Sexiest Artists competition. I couldn't believe Lyle Lovett didn't crack the top 25 - he's dreamy). Look, we vote for the people who best represent our views. It's stupid to try to micromanage their policy opinions through statewide votes. Who do we think we are, Marie Byers? It's like telling your new bride "I love everything about you - except your ears, so pardon me while I hack them off."

As Ehrlich spokesman Paul Schurick said, sort of, a referendum would take years and cost thousands of lives. Who needs it? Everyone knew Ehrlich supported slots, so now he's showing good leadership by efficiently pushing through a key part of his platform. More power to him.

Except that seeing as how we have no horses, that means we will have no slots. I'd like to see if the new governor could do something about that. We used to have racing, so maybe we could be grandfathered in.

Sure would be a boost for the fairgrounds, which the city has turned into a community park. Welcome to the Hagerstown-Washington County Jogging Path, Softball Field and Casino. Tell the pit boss I want to put six large on the fat guy in the "Just Bud Me" T-shirt to fly out to left.

Since this is all good clean fun, another interesting thing to watch will be the synchronized squirms of our local lawmakers, who enjoy taking controversial stands about as much as Bill Clinton enjoyed wearing pants.

This is a conservative, religious community, and I've heard lots of conservative, religious people exclaim as they scratched off their lottery tickets that gambling is sinful. That puts our "family oriented" delegation in a tight place, since all this past decade they've been moaning for a Republican governor and it will be poor form if they oppose the first thing he does right out of the gate.

Right out of the gate. That reminds me, didn't there used to be a little mechanical bouncing horsie out front of the old Ames department store? And isn't that empty now? Are you, or more importantly is the governor, thinking what I'm thinking?




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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