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Md. comptroller criticizes slot machines during Hagerstown visit

August 06, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot used an appearance at a Hagerstown business breakfast Tuesday to lobby further against this fall's slots referendum.

Franchot called the legalization of slots a "virus" that consumes lawmakers' thoughts in Annapolis and prevents them from creating fiscal solutions.

"It mesmerizes people," he said.

Voters in Maryland will decide in November whether to amend the state constitution and allow 15,000 slot machines in five counties.

On slots, Franchot, a Democrat, clashes with leaders in his party, particularly Gov. Martin O'Malley and Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., the Senate president.

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Supporters say slots are needed to boost state revenues and the horse-racing industry, and for Maryland to compete with surrounding states.

Detractors, including Franchot, call slots a fiscal gimmick with social side effects.

Speaking at Tuesday's Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce breakfast, Franchot also railed against tax increases that O'Malley, Miller and other Democrats in the majority approved.

He called last fall's special session -- when a tax package of about $1.3 billion was approved -- "a train wreck."

Franchot called for a blue-ribbon panel to be assembled to look at state spending and another panel to study revenues.

Franchot's talk at Duffy's on Potomac in Hagerstown was part of the chamber's Eggs & Issues series, which features different speakers and topics.

During a question-and-answer period, Franchot was asked to explain how Las Vegas goes against his theory that widespread gambling escalates government spending and deficits.

Franchot said Las Vegas is different because it's a tourist destination for its gambling.

"No one's going to fly into Baltimore to play slots," he said.

Another person suggested that grouping slot machines in concentrated areas would hurt communities less than lottery tickets, which are available virtually everywhere.

Franchot said lottery tickets are less addictive. Slots gambling, he said, is "the lottery on steroids."

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