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As I see it, slots bill is clear as mud

March 01, 2005|by TIM ROWLAND

· Commentary

As I write this on Friday, the Maryland House of Delegates has scheduled a potential make-or-break vote on the legalization of slot machines.

Call me Nostradamus if you must, but I predict that the slots bill will (editor: please insert "pass" or "fail" here, depending on what happens.) Ha, ha, I'll look like a genius and all the fools out there who are reading this will be none the wiser. Ha ha h... whoops. (Editor: please delete the part about the fools).

Now if I understand this bill, and I don't, it would land a casino Somewhere in Frederick County and at the Rocky "Funding" Gap resort in Allegany County. For us here in Washington County, that's great news. We have easy access to the casinos, without having to house the hookers.

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The bill expressly prohibits slots at several venues, including the Ocean Downs harness track near Ocean City. Makes sense. You don't want to put slot machines where there's gambling.

No one's saying exactly where in Frederick County the slots would go, although I think a logical place would be Hood College. They're always looking for something to be scornful of, it would be handy if they had something right on their own campus.

That Solarex plant on I-70 would work. It kind of looks like a big slot machine, when you think about it. Brunswick is a possibility, since it already has ties to the gaming industry - that is where they make the bowling balls, isn't it? Or maybe the Dan-Dee; it would save the old ladies in tennis shoes a trip.

As for Rocky Gap, I like the symmetry of people going there to lose money, since the resort loses so much of the article itself. Good slogan possibilities, too: "Be a Sap at Rocky Gap."

In the end, though, we know that slot machines will go to the owners who are most worthy, have the soundest financial management and offer the biggest bribes, er, campaign contributions. As a matter of fact, I think that was one of their amendments to the original legislation: Article 6 - "All bribes for said slot machines shall be tendered in small, nonsequential bills and must be left in unmarked briefcases, not big bags with dollar signs on them."

Not that there is anything, and I want to make this perfectly clear, that is in any way dishonest or shady about the legalized gaming industry (maintainstraightfacemaintainstraightfacemaintainstraightface maintain... Gulp, whew. Close one. Brrrrrr.)

One lawmaker offered what I thought was an interesting amendment, one that would prohibit the gambling industry from giving campaign contributions. It lost on a tie vote, 66-66. So if you've ever wondered how many delegates get campaign contributions from the gambling industry, now you know: 66. And most of them had taken the day off, content to let the lobbyists vote for them.

It wouldn't have worked, anyway. The gambling industry would have simply changed its name to something else. "Slot machines? Why we operate no slot machines. We are in the tomato industry. We operate big, loud, bell-ringing, light-flashing, one-armed tomatoes."

One amendment I would have liked to have seen was one that would have required all technical high schools in Maryland to offer courses in slot machine repair. I mean, if this is the course we want to take, we ought to be ready. And to my mind, it's the only way to really guarantee that the legislation will benefit schools.

Yes, I know, $350 million of the revenue is supposed to be given to schools. But I know how government works. They'll say, "Here's $350 million for your construction budget! Oh and by the way, we're cutting your operating budget by $350 million."

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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