Why restrict gambling to Md. racetracks?

February 06, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

Excellent, it's all coming together.

For years I've been saying that we don't need slot machines just at Maryland racetracks, we need slots in many more convenient locations - preferably on everyone's front porch.

Problem there is that we may run into a few of those "private property" wackos who might believe it an infringement on their "rights" if the government were to forcibly install a slot machine next to the rose trellis. They could tie the issue up in court, so it may not be worth the trouble.

But somebody besides me (and even better, somebody with power) has seen the light and wants to expand slot machines beyond the venues where they can only be accessed by either very dumb people or very smart horses.


Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden said last week he wants the state to agree to a casino in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. If you didn't see that coming, you are also probably having trouble with the "sun rising every day in the east" paradigm.

I remember about four years ago taking a tour of the harbor, and one of the "sights" the boat's captain pointed out was a big expanse of land "where the new casino will eventually go."

Gov. Bob Ehrlich is opposed to the idea, but in the end, what is he going to do? His spending plan already balances the budget on the backs of gamblers, so when push comes to shove he's going to turn down even more revenue?

What's a little gambling in the Inner Harbor going to hurt. Is he worried too much money will be put down on whatever team is playing the Orioles?

Blackjack, skipjack, what's the difference? Liven up that dreadfully boring old National Aquarium with some poker tables. ("When you said you were a card shark, I assumed...")

And once the precedent has been established for off-track slot machines, Hagerstown should step right up to the roulette table and put it all on green - as in let's go gambling.

From all I'm reading, no one needs the revenue more than the City of Hagerstown. And Laurel is such a long drive, and the Allegany County track hasn't even been built yet.

At first blush, I thought the Hagerstown Suns stadium would be a great casino spot, seeing as how it's been bought by people who have Las Vegas interests. Then I thought of turning the C&O Canal Towpath into the world's longest and least circular horse track. Race the ponies from Cumberland to Georgetown, meaning that every county from Allegany to Montgomery would be instantly eligible for slots.

But I'd been overlooking the most obvious choice.

The solution was brought home to me last week when I noticed a news story explaining how the cold weather was driving all the homeless people into the Washington County Free Library to keep warm. They get out of the chill, and all they have to do in return is sit around and read all day.

Well, obviously this creates a problem because - given the minuscule percentage of people in this county with college degrees - it means that the homeless people in this county are probably more educated than the ones living under roof.

Since libraries are hurting for fixed-address clientele as much as horse tracks, I figure slots would be a great draw. You could get all those dusty old books out of the Western Maryland Room and replace them with the shiny chrome and flashing lights of the video poker machine.

And all those meeting rooms downstairs? I mean honestly, who wants to hear a guest lecturer for the local chapter of the Audubon Society talk about the Indonesian cousin of the loggerheaded shrike drone on and on, on the second Tuesday of every month?

Fill up the rooms with slots. I'm sure the Washington County Free Library and Casino would be a trendsetter. Or it would at least give the homeless something to do besides read.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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