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The slots dance continues

August 13, 2004

Like the strange mating ritual of some exotic bird, the effort to legalize slot machines in Maryland continues in a way that seems to involve a lot of wasted motion. It's clear to us that there will be no outraged cry from citizens if slots are legalized, so why not just get on with it?

The best argument in favor of legalization is that slots are already legal in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware.

Many Marylanders are already "voting with their feet" and traveling to slot venues in other states. Still, House Speaker Michael Busch insists on making it difficult.

Busch, who has blocked a slots bill for the last two years, now says he'll allow one on the floor if the voters pass a constitutional amendment.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich expressed reservations about that this week, saying that some key pro-slots lawmakers were opposed. If so, it's time for Ehrlich to use his leadership to get them to go along anyway.

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However, Ehrlich should insist on a simply worded amendment. The state constitution is not the place to specify how many machines will be allowed, the split with operators or the nuts and bolts of regulation.

But a pledge that the money generated would go to the state's education budget would be a good thing. The state has too many funds now - such as the Transportation Trust Fund - that are used for purposes unrelated to their creation when money gets tight.

Speaker Busch will find when this comes to a vote that Maryland citizens will approve slots because the alternative is raising taxes. As Busch has said, the cost of providing needed services may require a tax increase anyway, but first let's see what government reorganization and slots can yield in the way of revenues.

As we've said before, the state needs to take appropriate measurers to keep gamblers from becoming addicted. Training employees in how to spot susceptible people and banning automatic-teller machines at slot sites are just the a few of the safeguards needed.

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