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