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Slots Hypocrisy: Bring Them On (Just Not Here)

The stench of slots money now so pervades Maryland state government that politicians who are normally highly sensitive to accusations of flip-flops and inconsistencies are just charging ahead, even when their votes make them look foolish.

The Maryland Senate approved Gov. Martin O'Malley's slots proposal by a 31-15 vote, with senators from Prince George's County embracing the expansion of state-sponsored gambling by 6-2. Among the county's senators, only Anthony Muse and Paul Pinsky said No to slots. (Montgomery's senators also went for slots by a 6-2 margin.)

On the very same day, every single one of those very same Prince George's senators voted against an attempt to change the list of future slots palaces to include one in...Prince George's County (at Rosecroft Raceway in Oxon Hill.) So for six senators from the county, slots are just fine for someone else's constituents to live next to, but unacceptable here at home, where the money that would come rolling in is not worth the social strains of increased problem gambling and crime and the moral problem of relying on the poorest residents to shore up the state budget.

How quickly things change. We need slots because of the budget crisis, the governor says. Oh yes, the legislators agree: Quite terrible. Why, if we didn't approve slots, we'd have to slash and burn our way through state spending, hurting many good people.

But hold on: Many of these same legislators who now think slots are just fine weren't quite so pleased to support the idea when there was a Republican governor pushing the same idea with the same rationales.

Come with us now back to the deep past, to 2003, when Gov. Bobby Haircut lost one of his several bids to legalize slots. If the lawmakers didn't come along, Gov. Ehrlich said then, Maryland would face draconian budget cuts. Then-Sen. Leonard Teitelbaum (D-Montgomery) was one of a bunch of legislators who let himself be persuaded to switch from anti-slots to a Yes vote. As the Post's Craig Whitlock reported then,

"Teitelbaum said he became a reluctant slots convert after the governor and Senate president persuaded him that deep budget cuts would be forthcoming if the gambling measure failed.

"They basically said they needed my vote, that this was a critical issue," he said. "I said to myself, hey, I got to do what's right. If we didn't pass the slots, the cuts would have been so dramatic that it would impact all of our social programs."

But of course slots failed back then, and the scare stories about big budget cuts proved to be just that--stories. The state did just fine without slots income, in fact, without any major tax increases at all.

O'Malley does face a budget crunch today, but as the remainder of his tax package demonstrates, there are plenty of other ways to address the situation, including both spending cuts and revenue increases. The rationale for slots remains weak and ever-shifting. One day it's about saving the horse industry, the next it's about creating income that the state refuses to raise in a more progressive and fair manner.

Maryland now cannot even bring itself to ask rich folks to pay their fair share, yielding to Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett's plea on behalf of his wealthiest constituents.

The slots are coming, and the track owners are already seeing how wisely they invested their money in those friendly legislators.

By Marc Fisher |  November 13, 2007; 7:04 AM ET
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Comments

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Marc - o'malley doesn't face a budget crunch today. O'Malley wants to increase the budget (to pay for new and expanded programs) to a tune of 1.5 million dollars next year. This just so happens to be the same amount of extra revenue that the tax increases and slots would pay for. That's the real hypocrisy...

Posted by: jan | November 13, 2007 8:13 AM

I am so over hearing about slots as a magic cure-all, fix-all for the state. I live in Maryland and would be much more supportive of legalized table games (blackjack, poker) then video games.

Why is it always slots? Why isn't it ever games that require some amount of logic and skill, along with the luck of gambling?

Oh yeah, it's the money.

Posted by: sjf | November 13, 2007 8:26 AM

I for one, don't want slots in PG county. We're already dealing with many of DC's social problems, thanks to the gentrification that has chased DC's poor and their associated problems to inner PG county. Add to that the fact that our public hospital is on the brink thanks to DC's closing of DC General.

We don't need the rif-raff coming in to play the slots and bringing the shylocks, hookers, pimps, drug dealers, muggers, con artists, etc., along with them.

Enough, already.

BTW, Marc, the "Bobby Haircut" moniker has become played out and cliched. Lose it.

Posted by: ceefer66 | November 13, 2007 8:52 AM

Damn right! PG should be selfish, here!
PG has been carrying the region's water in terms of affordable housing for decades - particularly in the inner core area, near Rosecroft. As a result, it has suffered disproportionately when it comes to the social ills that stem from having poor and unwanted people in your area. Where is our thanks from the other jurisdiction? Now, for the first time in decades, the County actually wants to be self-serving. Please! PG has earned that position.

Posted by: more facts please | November 13, 2007 9:27 AM

First, it's funny that Marc Fisher would call anyone a hypocrite since he calls the PWC council "cowards" when they face hours of critical public comments but he refuses to answer questions about his position on illegal immigration (in either email or in the Post's discussions; review his past chats and see how many pro-enforcement questions he answers).

But on this topic, his claims of hypocrisy ring hollow. Of course legislators often approved projects that they may not want in their own districts. Prisons, landfills, and a host of other less desirable activities. Indeed, there is likely not a single legislator who has not voted to approve a project that s/he would not want in their neighborhood. Usually at least one county will want a project because of job creation, tax revenues, etc. so why shouldn't the legislators site a project where it is desired. As the comments here show, most in PG County don't want slots, so the PG legislators are doing what they were elected to do: represent the electorate. Thus, so long as that legislator's vote reflects his constituency, then he is acting appropriately.

Of course, in Marc's world, the only correct vote is a vote for what Marc wants. It doesn't matter what the majority of citizens that elected the legislator favors, or what the law demands. No, only what Marc Fisher thinks, because how can anyone dare question the wisdom of the Great Fisher, Washington Post Columnist, as if that rather pathetic position makes his judgment infallible.

Posted by: AlvinT | November 13, 2007 9:39 AM

When I saw the headline, I thought Marc was going to try to reconcile his belief that the Government should not ban smoking in public places with his belief that the Government should ban slots.

Posted by: Tom T. | November 13, 2007 10:40 AM

jan @ 08:13 - He is proposing a 1.5 BILLION increase, not million.

Hey, don't blame me, I didn't vote for the fool.

For all you people who did - what did you expect from the Mayor of Baltimore?

FYI: He already raised the budget this year - that is why the surplus got burned up. Now he wants more so he can buy more votes - just like he did in Baltimore.

Go ahead and vote for him again, dummies.

Posted by: VoiceofReason | November 13, 2007 11:23 AM

Anyone who voted for O'Malley (or advocated doing so - Fisher) should be ashamed. O'Malley is nothing more than a dyed in the wool tax-and-spend Democrat. He would rather unleash a host of more social ills on the State that slots will cause (meaning more gov't. programs costing millions more tax dollars to cure those ills in the future) than tighten the budget.

And before you advocate taxing the rich at higher levels to pay for these services ask what services can be trimmed or eliminated first. Why according to Fisher is it okay to tax rich people but it's not okay to have slots? Both get the same results, more money to be wasted by the State.

Posted by: Shame on those who voted for O'Malley | November 13, 2007 2:28 PM

I think slots wouldn't be a bad idea for the western Md area (most notably Cumberland). Since the railroads stopped running through that region of MD, jobs practically vanished, leaving a "city" that looks like a throwback to the '40s. I think an industry like slots would revitalize the area, provide jobs for the locals and generate business for the current establishments. It's not like the rest of the state knows they exist.

Posted by: Former FSU Student | November 13, 2007 2:32 PM

I think former FSU student nailed it!

Posted by: Count Bobulescu | November 14, 2007 2:16 AM

Marc,

Nothing worse than a leftist liberal columnist for a major newspaper who makes a third of a million dollars calling folks hypocrits! Those who live in houses whose assessed value has 6 zeroes to left of the decimal point need to shut the f up!

Posted by: Anonymous | November 14, 2007 6:27 AM

Slots are a tax on the poor. We Maryland voters get to veto them in next year's referenum. Let the PGers lead the way voting No! As for the PG boo hooes, PG has ALWAYS been taking care of by the State Legislture particularily when Steny was running things. As for your public hostital, if you want it, pony up the taxes. If not, let it go.

Posted by: A Hardwick | November 14, 2007 11:03 AM

Bring the slots to Frederick County, MD. I welcome it! I won't need to drive to Charlestown in order to play the slots and have fun.

Posted by: Frederick County, MD | November 14, 2007 9:43 PM

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