Md. voters say yes to slots, early voting

November 05, 2008

BALTIMORE (AP) -- Maryland voters approved legalizing slot machines Tuesday in a constitutional amendment, paving the way for up to 15,000 machines in five locations and ending years of debate between lawmakers who never managed to pass the measure on their own.

With 66 percent of precincts reporting, approval of the measure received 59 percent of the vote.

Voters statewide also approved amending the constitution to allow the General Assembly to approve early voting legislation. With 67 percent of precincts reporting, the measure was approved with 71 percent of the vote.

For slots, the sites approved by voters are in Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester counties, the city of Baltimore and on state property in Rocky Gap State Park in western Maryland.

Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley, who proposed the referendum idea, said slots are badly needed to help fix the state's big budget deficits.


"We're already facing some really tremendous challenges because of the downturn in the economy, and if this had been rejected, we would have doubled those challenges," O'Malley said.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, who battled hard against slots, said local communities will begin "to wrestle with this issue anew, deciding whether to change their planning" and zoning laws to allow slots.

"The task of balancing our state budget and meeting our critical needs has been made that much harder because so much has been promised to so many," Franchot said in a statement. "People have been told that they can get something for nothing and we all know that that is not the case."

Some voters described a difficult balance between whether to expand gambling for the sake of schools, which will receive about half of the proceeds, or to turn away the social ills associated with the gambling devices.

"I came to the conclusion that slot machines are a tax on poor people ... and I just don't feel right about it," said Bill White after voting against the proposal at Annapolis Middle School.

But for other voters, it wasn't a hard decision at all, considering the financial need for schools.

"They need every penny they can get," said Diane Brown of Severna Park, who has had three children go through the public school system.

For opponents, the toughest part of the ballot question was the impact it could have on people who are struggling economically but willing to risk what little they have on long-shot jackpots.

"I feel it's an addiction that can get overwhelming," said Roger Pastrana in Annapolis.

But supporters noted neighboring states have slot machines that lure Marylanders.

"If we're pumping up their revenues, we might as well take care of our own kids here," said Pamela Marshall in Hagerstown, about 40 miles from Charles Town, W.Va., where a horse racing track has slots.

O'Malley included the referendum as part of his plan to address a structural deficit during last year's special session. Worsening economic conditions have created annual budget deficits in the area of $1 billion for the next several years, causing supporters to press the importance of the financial lift in recent months.

The state could receive $90 million for the next fiscal year through the sale of slot machine licenses. Once slots are fully operational in fiscal year 2013, slots could generate as much as $660 million annually for the state, according to estimates by state budget analysts.

As for the early voting amendment, lawmakers will now be able to enact legislation to allow qualified voters to cast ballots up to two weeks before an election and at polling places outside of their election districts. More than 30 states already have early voting.


Maryland (1,719 of 1,829 precincts reporting)

Yes -- 1,248,607

No -- 885,903

Washington County (50 of 50 precincts reporting

Yes -- 36,145

No -- 18,129

Early Voting

Maryland (1,687 of 1,829 precincts reporting)

Yes - 1,430,743

No - 596,107

Washington County (43 of 50 precincts reporting

Yes -- 33,153

No -- 19,674

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