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Negative ads against gambling actually paid for by gambling industry in turf war

September 17, 2012

You’ve seen the negative television ads concerning Question 7, which would significantly expand gambling in Maryland.

Casinos apparently are evil, sinful, unwholesome and destructive of families. Gambling won’t produce the promised revenue. And the cash won’t go into schools and senior citizen programs, instead it will go straight into the pockets of those slick, cigar-chomping casino owners.

And the people who say so ought to know, because the negative ads are being paid for by the very same slick, cigar-chomping casino owners.

Yes, casinos are trying to convince you that casinos are hideous. A casino opposing a casino? What separates the two?

As it turns out, the answer to that question is “a state line.”

Penn National, which owns the West Virginia casino in Charles Town, doesn’t want anyone infringing on its turf, so it has spent $10 million to date urging Maryland voters to reject anything that might resemble competition.

In all, the ads denouncing gambling remind us of the virtues of calm, sober, rational decision-making — and stand in some contrast to Penn National’s other ad campaign, which shows people drinking alcohol, squealing with laughter and indiscriminately yanking the levers on slot machines.

And, having an irritatingly long memory, I can remember when Penn National was trying to get West Virginia voters to support its own gambling operation.

At that time, of course, gambling was all sunshine and light. Penn National promised jobs, money for schools and lower taxes — all the things that it is now saying WON’T happen if casinos come to Maryland.

I guess Maryland and West Virginia gambling are as different as a sweet potato and a yam. Or so I’m told.

But in Penn National’s pro-gambling initiative back in the ’90s, I remember that reporters caught grief for calling them “slot machines.” Penn National emphatically said it was not slot-machine gambling, it was merely a mechanical lottery. Slots was too scary a word to foist on a reluctant public.

Or it was until gambling was approved, at which point Penn National bought billboard space up and down Interstate 81 loudly advertising “SLOTS!!!”

So quick-change artistry is nothing new for Penn National.

Of course, on the other side of the (ha ha) coin is the Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts International, which wants to build an $800 million casino at National Harbor in Prince George’s County.

Pro-gambling forces have pumped another $5 million into the fray, and even though they are on the short end of the spending stick at this point, they have what is clearly the class of the advertisements so far: That would be the “You don’t want to see West Virginia children getting educated, do you?” series.

Yes, that’s right. Some of your crisp, clean Maryland bucks are leaking over the border to W.Va. casinos, where those grubby little barefoot, coverall-wearing, trailer-park urchins are using them to go to — get this — school.

Amazing. And, happily, we still have another six weeks of these ads to enjoy. Although I am starting to suspect that this is one of those rare fights, like Cowboys-Eagles, where there isn’t a good guy to root for.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at timr@herald-mail.com.

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