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Marylanders ought to know what slot revenues would do

June 29, 2004

Why is Pennsylvania about to pass a bill to legalize slot machines while Maryland's efforts to do the same are still stalled?

Because, Pennsy proponents say, they were successful in linking the issue with the idea of cutting property taxes. Perhaps Maryland backers of slots need to talk less about the revenue they expect and more about what that cash would be dedicated to.

In Maryland the assumption has been that slot-machine revenue will go to pay for the additional money mandated in legislation that enacts the recommendations of the Thornton Commission.

But we've heard little about what would actually happen with the additional money. Are we talking about smaller class sizes and tutoring programs or things like all-day kindergarten?

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If Baltimore had had some of that money, it might not have put itself in the financial jam it did by sending many children to summer school without enough money to pay for those costs. If Washington County had some of that cash, it might be able to put some of its school-renovation projects on fast-forward.

Whether citizens of the state favor slots or not is still an unsettled question. Gov. Robert Ehrlich was elected on a platform that included legalizing slots.

On the other hand, House Speaker Michael Busch's opposition to that idea has not provoked an outcry, perhaps because Busch proposed giving every area of Maryland its own slot parlor.

Citizens who would be glad to get the revenue are probably less eager to face the traffic and associated problems that come with more gambling.

But if there's going to be an intelligent debate, Marylanders need to know what they'll get in exchange for legalization. Pennsylvania citizens know that some tax relief is in the cards if slots are legalized.

So what's in store for Maryland if the slots bill passes? It's time to advance the debate by offering more information.

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