“I don’t think anyone in this state can stop the train of gambling expansion in Maryland, not even Frank Turner.”
I was referring to State Del. Frank Turner (D-Howard County) in a conversation with a colleague about our state’s growing dependence on gambling revenue. Frank is chairman of the gambling subcommittee of the House Ways & Means Committee, which gives him a fairly prominent role in deciding the fate of gambling in the state.
And, according to a recent article by Len Lazerick in Maryland Reporter, Frank is “no big fan of gambling.”
He’s at odds with our governor on this. Despite setbacks in the General Assembly and the subsequent collapse of a specially-created work group to craft a compromise on the issue, Gov. Martin O’Malley continues to push for a special session this summer to get the on the ballot this fall.
Despite protestations that he is merely trying to “slow all this gambling down,” Frank voted for the slots referendum in 2008, and I’m willing to bet that he comes around this time, too.
As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”
In 2008, Maryland voters went to the polls and allowed 15,000 slot machines to be placed in the state. Four years ago, voters were told that these 15,000 machines would aid schools and save the state’s horse racing industry. It was even promised that $5 million of the state’s slots revenue would be set aside for helping those people in need cope with their gambling addiction.
Four years later, there are only about 5,000 slot machines in the state and only 800 of them are at a horse track. The schools are still strapped for funds, and I haven’t heard any more mention of the $5 million for gambling addicts since the referendum.
Of course, these were all political promises, and in the great state of Maryland, political promises made to advance a particular agenda are often malleable.
Part of the problem was legislative greed. The approved slots legislation mandated that almost 70% of the revenue generated from slots parlors would go to the state, one of the biggest takes in the country. It’s no wonder that casino operators haven’t exactly been beating down our doors to open new facilities here.
Those that have opened have very little in common with the opulent gaming palaces of Las Vegas or Atlantic City. The Hollywood Casino in Perryville has all the charm of an adult video arcade. The state’s largest casino at Arundel Mills is built into a mammoth parking garage, hardly something you’d ever see on the Las Vegas Strip.
Now our state legislators want to fix the mess they created by expanding gambling to include table games. They further propose to reduce the state’s onerous cut of the gambling pie in order to entice the big gaming boys, like Caesars and MGM, to open up shop in the state.
In a gambling advocacy ad paid for by a group calling itself the Building Traders for National Harbor, voters are being told that new gaming revenues will result in “millions for schools and teachers,” and “thousands of new, good paying jobs, all without raising new taxes.”
Yeah, right. Since 2008, when gambling was first approved as our fiscal savior, the Maryland General Assembly has raised taxes and fees at least 13 times. I suppose some elected officials would suggest that these increases would have been even greater had it not been for the slots revenue.
I’m not buying it.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no Puritan. I have nothing against gambling, but to suggest that by increasing its footprint in the state we will forgo any new taxes is simply disingenuous. Judging from past experience, new revenues generated from gambling will simply be offset by new expenditures somewhere else.
In fact, I would not be surprised if some of our legislators soon begin pushing for more money for themselves. They’ll argue that the annual 90-day session is only a small part of the job — now that things like special sessions are no longer all that special. More than a few of them have already told me that being a state senator or delegate in Maryland is no longer a part-time job. If that isn’t telegraphing a punch I don’t know what is.
If you think the gambling train is unstoppable, just wait until that one gets rolling.
Dennis Lane co-hosts “and then there’s that…;a biweekly local news podcast on hocomojo.com, and blogs about stuff around here at wordbones.com.