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No gambling at Rocky Gap: Sierra Club opposed to slots

September 13, 2008|By BONNIE BICK

When you think of state parks in Maryland, you think of wide open green spaces, forests and protected animal habitats. Until now, that is what Rocky Gap has been to thousands of Marylanders - 3,000 rural acres of dense woods, cliffs and gorges, including Lake Habeeb and Evitts Mountain.

The park has an active nature center with nature hikes, demonstrations, and children's programs. It also boasts camping sites and a place to host a wedding.

If the pro-slots lobby has its way in November, the park would also boast a gambling casino, and therefore a place to lose your money. The Rocky Gap State Park would be home to traffic and parking lots. And most especially, the park experience would offer more diversity. Instead of being restricted to an environment offering just natural beauty, education and inspiration, new elements would be added to the mix - the desperation, fear and danger of gambling, the systematic extraction of wealth, often from those who can bear this the least.

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To even think of such a thing in an economy like that of today, where more and more of us are teetering on the brink, is not just asking for trouble. It is demanding it.

From the perspective of the Sierra Club, the slots proposal, which includes Cecil and Worcester counties, represents the worst in public policy.

By building major structures intended to attract large volumes of vehicular traffic in far-flung locations, they embody the exact opposite of Maryland's Smart Growth strategy.

Last year, Gov. Martin O'Malley announced he was reviving the state's Office of Smart Growth and that his office was committed to addressing the pressures on our infrastructures and preserving open space. Putting slot casinos in rural counties and a state park flies in the face of this commitment.

The negative impact of slots on Western Maryland would have long reaching effects. It would not just mean the transformation of a state park, but it would fundamentally alter the character of Cecil, Worcester and Allegany counties.

Of the five slot casino locations in the referendum, three are in rural areas. These locations are not centrally located and have been chosen simply because they lack the population and political clout to oppose the referendum effectively, either in Annapolis or at the ballot box.

As we know, increased road-building puts the state into a vicious construction-congestion cycle that destroys rural landscapes and ecosystems and adds to automotive traffic - our fastest-growing contributor to global warming.

But the greenest of green buildings would destroy the character of any of our precious and ever-rarer natural areas. Gambling is available, unfortunately, in any liquor or convenience store. Why would our supposedly anti-sprawl governor support a takeover of natural places by an industry so extreme in unwholesomeness and hostility to the environment?

These rural areas represent the essence of Maryland. A yes vote in November will inevitably turn Rocky Gap State Park into Rocky Gap State Gambling Center.

The Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club urges its members and all Marylanders to stand up for open space, better air quality, rural communities and stand against slots.

Bonnie Bick is with the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club and is a member of the steering committee of Marylanders United

to Stop Slots.

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