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Anne Arundel 100
Slots: What Are the Odds?
by Zach Bankert '08
Zach Bankert produced a 50-minute documentary on the pros and cons of the slots referendum for his St. Mary’s Project, the College’s senior thesis. It can be viewed on YouTube, or if your organization wants a copy, contact Political Science Professor Michael Cain, firstname.lastname@example.org. Since graduation, Bankert has opened his own business, Scooter Boy, in Salisbury, Maryland.
My interest in gambling was sparked at a young age. I was 12 when we took our first family vacation to Las Vegas.
More trips to Vegas would follow. My first legitimate excursion to Sin City was for my 21st birthday, which happened to coincide with the Super Bowl and a visit to the bookie. I fondly remember counting my father’s coin cup after Friday night poker games to see if he won or lost. Weekend jaunts to Atlantic City were excuses to get out of Salisbury, Maryland, and continue to this day. My grandfather often reminisces about large family holidays in old Atlantic City and even the strip in Waldorf that had slots into the 1960s. These days, the Bankerts travel to the Caribbean every Christmas; the destination must have beaches, a swim-up bar in the resort pool, a currency weaker than the U.S., and casinos (preferably with craps tables).
I have quite the education on gambling, but the slots issue in Maryland is more complex than I initially thought when I started my St. Mary’s Project.
In November, you will be able to vote to allow or block the reintroduction of slot machines in Maryland. State politicians have argued this for a decade and finally passed the buck to the voting citizens. The referendum would place slots parlors at five horse- racing venues across the state. State analysts say slots could raise hundreds of millions a year for the state budget. Others question this sum, saying it is especially optimistic with the slowing economy.
After examining the issue, I find that the arguments break down into three categories: political, economical, and moral.
Ocean City, considered a prime location, has been extremely vocal on the moral front as it tries to defend its family-values image. Moral advocates argue that gambling brings with its money the corrosion of the stable family, bankruptcy, divorce, addiction, and possibly organized crime. A frightful list, but one must remember that the individual chooses to stick the quarter in the slot. What is the government’s role in deciding where john q. public spends his money and who can dictate what vices I choose to indulge? Cigarettes, booze, and the lottery are acceptable only because the government is getting its cut.
Many slots advocates claim that we would only be adding another form of gambling to locations that already allow betting. This argument attempts to hide that the heart of the issue truly lies in economics. The horse industry is failing on a national level, and the government is attempting to subsidize it by handing it the extremely lucrative slots business. Some claim that Maryland needs to save its historic horse-breeding industry. Frankly, I don’t care if the official state sport is jousting or that War Admiral and Man O’War were trained in Maryland. If an industry dies, then it simply isn’t fit enough anymore.
The introduction of the gambling industry has been known to cannibalize existing businesses, building its own hotels, restaurants, and entertainment facilities. This is why Ocean City is truly afraid of slots. If a casino can offer cheaper rooms and a $10 steak, how can business owners at the beach survive with their already inflated prices?
The politicians have validated their referendum by noting it will help the over $2 billion state budget deficit. They also claim that the slots money will go directly into the education fund. However, the government has to pay for schools with or without the aid of slots money. The lottery was originally founded to fund schools, but now it is simply dumped into the general fund. If slots money pays for schools, then the other funds forked over by Maryland taxpayers and business owners are available to either fight the deficit or supply pork-barrel politics. Some believe that if slots pay for schools, then taxpayers will pay for new pavement to slots parlors. The government must also cover costs such as addiction counseling and increased income assistance for gambling addicts.
Some claim that slots are a tax on the poor, as they are the primary users of slot machines. Others counter that slots are a voluntary tax, noting that nobody is forced to play slots. With millions of Maryland dollars being dumped into West Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey machines every year, some argue that Maryland should at least try to collect some cash back. New jobs will be created, but they are usually low paying and created by cannibalizing old jobs. The people truly making the money are the corporate heads of the gambling industry, not the woman who exchanges your bills for quarters.
The referendum has established limitations to the return of the gambling industry by pre-selecting the locations and number of machines. History shows us this will only be temporary. Once the gambling industry has its foot in the door of state government, it can quickly get a strangle hold.
In the end, what do I think? I don’t care if some “everyman” loses the rent check one quarter at a time. I don’t care for charity cases and believe that people can make their own decisions. But I do feel that gambling would hurt the state as a whole. I don’t want the gaming industry to take the money that should go into more legitimate businesses that recirculate and spread the wealth more evenly. This is coming from somebody who openly admits to enjoy gambling.
I’ll give you two-to-one odds that the law doesn’t pass.