Slots in the neighborhood?

April 28, 2005

For opponents of slot machines, the just-concluded session of the Maryland General Assembly was an assurance that for another two years, at least, the one-armed bandits will remain out of state.

In the meantime, however, Pennsylvania officials learned that a development group is seeking a license for a slot-machine gambling casino and spa on 42 acres north of Gettysburg.

If the bid is successful, it will be one of the few slot venues not earmarked for one of Pennsylvania's horse tracks or reserved for sites in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

And, if successful, the bid will also provide another avenue for Marylanders who want to gamble in that way to take their money out of state.


Maryland's debate over slots started long before Pennsylvania's, but has been hampered by ham-handed tactics on both sides.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who during his campaign made no secret of his desire to see slots legalized, offered a bill in his first year in office that was not well-thought-out, even though there were models available from all over the U.S.

The Democratic leadership, particularly House Speaker Michael Busch, have insisted on coupling any slots bill with a tax increase.

Ehrlich, elected on a "no new taxes" pledge (though fee increases apparently don't qualify as taxes), wasn't willing to go along.

Next year is an election year and no substantive bill that requires major compromises, as a slots bill would, is likely to be passed.

In our view, slots should be one part of a plan to increase revenues to deal with the state's so-called structural deficit. As we have said in the past, Busch and company should have allowed slot legalization, then argued for increased taxes if gambling revenues didn't bridge the budget gap.

To those who object to slots on moral grounds, in the best of all possible worlds, lawmakers would set tax rates at a level needed to provide for the state's needs and citizens would pay those taxes willingly.

In the real world, many citizens would rather see gambling legalized than accept higher taxes.

Sooner or later, Maryland must take this step, or continue to watch its citizens take their dollars elsewhere.

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