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Slots Report Irks Franchot

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot clashed openly yesterday with Gov. Martin O'Malley, a fellow Democrat, criticizing a report on slot machines by a senior O'Malley administration official as propaganda for the nation's gambling industry.

Franchot, speaking at a news conference in Salisbury, said he was "very disappointed" by a report released Tuesday by Thomas E. Perez, O'Malley's secretary of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. The report said that Marylanders are contributing $150 million a year to the treasuries of West Virginia and Delaware by playing slots in those states.

"The secretary had an opportunity to take an objective, independent look at an issue that has paralyzed our state for far too many years," Franchot, an opponent of legalizing slot machines, said in prepared remarks distributed by his staff after the event. "Rather than bringing a fresh perspective to this debate, the secretary simply reheated the talking points of the national gambling industry."

The issue of legalizing slot-machine gambling has been rekindled in Maryland by a looming state budget deficit projected to reach nearly $1.5 billion next year. Some lawmakers are pushing slots as part of the solution.

O'Malley, who has said he supports legalizing "a limited number" of slot machines, said later in the day that he thought Perez had done "a good job" by producing a balanced report.

"I don't think anybody believes Tom Perez works for the gambling industry," O'Malley said. A spokeswoman said Perez was on vacation and unavailable for comment.

In his remarks, Franchot said that he respected Perez "a great deal" and noted work they had done on other issues together. Both are Montgomery County Democrats.

The exchange was the latest in a string of episodes in which Franchot has sparred with O'Malley and his administration. As a member of the Board of Public Works, Franchot has aggressively questioned the rationale for a number of proposed state land purchases.

In his remarks yesterday, Franchot also questioned O'Malley's approach to the budget deficit: "Where's the blue ribbon commission on overhauling our tax system, modernizing it and making it fairer to all?"

Told of his comments, O'Malley shot back: "I've heard the comptroller say many times that there are hundreds of millions of taxes that go uncollected in Maryland. I look forward to seeing any of his recommendations about that."

By Phyllis Jordan  |  August 16, 2007; 8:07 AM ET
Categories:  John Wagner  
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This is actually encouraging...we've been conditioned for so long to expect governors and presidents grinding towards surrounding themselves with partisan "yes-men". Its rather refreshing to see checks and balances at work in the MD Democartic party. It will be intersting to see how O'Malley handles opposition and constructive criticism...we all need to be reminded when we walk too close to the edge, and this slots issue has O'Malley walking on thin ice. MD hopes he handles this situation appropriately and for the greater good of MD.

Posted by: Donny | August 16, 2007 8:25 AM | Report abuse

Franchot hits the nail on the head. This report devoted a scant 10% to the myriad problems associated with decriminalization of slots. It also contained many numbers and assertions that were not footnoted or explained in any way. If this was a term-paper, I'd give it a C-. For policy, it gets an F.

Posted by: Aaron Meisner | August 16, 2007 10:41 AM | Report abuse

IT amzes me how many people buy this garbarge the anti-slots crowd puts out about social ills related to gambling. If they are so dead against gambling and the supposed crime and addiction it brings, SHUT DOWN THE LOTTERY!!!!!!!!!!! There is a lottery terminal in every liquor store and market in the poorer neighborhoods of our state, but these people are worried about a dedicated place for the average MD resident to go gamble legally without going out of state. Wake up! My job and many others with a decent middle class wage will be out of work! Again, tell me why we have a lottery in this state if gambling is so bad? Why are the anti-gambling people not fighting to close the lottery? I just want someone on the anti side to give a credible answer to this question.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 16, 2007 11:20 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Peter Franchot on slots. They are a mindless exercise. Franchot is a smart guy. His kids are delightful and smart too. But he has supported tax increases down the line in the past. Don't talk to me about a 5% increase in any state program being a "cut" as the Washington Post editors do. Goldman Sachs has gone from 233 to l55 in one month. That is a CUT. I hope Franchot opposes O'Malley's march to tax increases and doesn't try and a mask tax increases with talk of "fairness." Otherwise, he should be put in the stocks in the city square with the others who want to raise taxes while our subprime economy tanks.

Posted by: Robin Ficker of Robin Realty | August 16, 2007 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Someday, I pray, the MD politicians will realize that when a popular pastime is banned in their state, the citizens will travel to other areas where it is permitted. And they will take their dollars with them.

Posted by: Jack | August 16, 2007 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Regarding the argument that if one opposes slots, one must demand the end of the state lottery, I have the following observation.

The Lottery has expanded from one drawing per week in 1973 to one drawing every four-and-a-half MINUTES (plus scratch-off) today. If we had known what would happen to the lottery, we may have reconsidered back in the 70's when all of this started.

But given what we know about expansion, supporting the bogus "limited slots" idea is extremely dangerous. Support "limited slots" at tracks today? Get ready for unlimited slots at the strip mall near your home in a few short years.

Posted by: Aaron Meisner | August 16, 2007 1:06 PM | Report abuse

So, you are opposed to slots because you think it will expand like the lottery? Again, if the lottery is so evil, why hasn't legislation been proposed to eliminate some or all of the games? Is it because the State controls all of the money? I'm just trying to understand, and I still havn't heard a decent answer. Slots will not proliferate like the lottery, because of the fees for licensing. No one is proposing Nevada or NJ type gambling laws, just limited to specific venues. It is up to the legislature to keep it limited. I want slots at the tracks and maybe a couple of destinations in MD, not at the corner grocery.

Posted by: Concerned track employee | August 16, 2007 1:36 PM | Report abuse

The reason that the legislature has not acted to curb the lottery is two-fold. First, they have a gambling addiction problem--they are addicted to the revenue and they won't seek help. Second, the victims of the lottery are largely the poorer people in Baltimore City and Prince Georges County. These people don't make big campaign contribution or have lobbyists with big expense accounts. Is that a direct enough answer?

The idea that slots won't proliferate because of licensing costs is just crazy. Slots licenses are worth about a billion each because they are effectively a license to steal money--and those licenses do sell. The lobbying and campaign contributions made by the national gambling industry will create a situation where Annapolis will do whatever the gambling guys tell them--just like Mike Miller does today. You may want "limited" slots today, but that will never hold up. Slots will ultimately destroy the horse racing business entirely.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 16, 2007 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Wow. Robin Ficker, a perennial Republican candidate whose law license is currently suspended, is ragging on O'Malley. I thought the Republicans supported slots? Where's the consistency? He doesn't want to raise taxes, but he also doesn't want slots. Last time I checked, money doesn't grow on trees.

Posted by: Skeptic | August 18, 2007 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Never trust Martin O'Malley--a political fraud. He has betrayed everybody--blacks, labor and those who supported him. O'Malley may even legalize prostitution? Frenchot must fight...Go Frenchot Go and kick O'Malley hard.

Posted by: Jane | August 18, 2007 10:28 PM | Report abuse

I cringe each time I hear "no slots in Maryland" while a fortunate few in Calvert County have been benefiting from LEGAL slots for years now. In the last 24 months or so, it has grown to a sickening pace.

Restaurants that were once decent places to eat have suddenly becoming choked with chain smoking slots players. It's more profitable to do away with dining tables and put up a few slot machines. Most notably, the Mayor of Cheasapeake Beach, Gerald Donovan (also the owner of the Rod 'n Reel Restaurant and over half of the other businesses in the town) has recently completed his new hotel and de facto casino remeniscent of some sleezy Nevada border town. Just follow the signs that read "Bingo Upstairs" ("Bingo" is codename for slots in these parts BTW) to see the dozens of middle aged to eldery folks blowing their SS checks while spinning tales about someone who hit for $2,500 a week ago. It truly makes me sick.

Mayor Donovan has built his establishments so that no one can enjoy the view of the Bay without first walking through his casino.

Posted by: Bingo | August 20, 2007 1:07 PM | Report abuse

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