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O'Malley: Mr. Slots Is "Sick of" Slots

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is "sick of" slots. "Let's get beyond it.... Let's move on to other things," he said on a Baltimore radio talk show the other day.

Never mind that Maryland voters will have to endure months of campaigning and gambling industry money sloshing through the state's political process because this very same governor persuaded legislators to put the controversy to the voters this fall. Now the governor is sick of the issue and just wants to move on.

Somehow, we're supposed to ignore the fact that O'Malley has gone farther than his much more avowedly pro-slots predecessor in putting 15,000 slot machines in five locations around Maryland. Voters are somehow supposed to make sense of a man who on one hand says that slots are a "morally bankrupt" way to raise money for public endeavors, yet on the other hand pushes to use slots as the way to fill a $500 million budget shortfall.

The governor would now have us believe that he doesn't particularly care which way voters go on the issue.

But the voters have a responsibility here, one imposed on them by this governor. A new poll finds that a large majority of Maryland voters support the idea of state-sponsored slots gambling. A Baltimore Sun survey finds 56 percent of likely voters favor amending the state constitution to allow those 15,000 one-armed bandits. As an opponent of legalizing slots, I can no longer argue that the voters don't know what this decision would lead to: In fact, they know, and they don't care. The Sun poll finds that fully 64 percent of voters don't believe O'Malley's promise that slots would be restricted to five locations--they assume that gambling would spread to other locations, and that's fine with them. A plurality of those polled also believe that slots would lead to full-scale casinos, so there are no illusions out there about the "limited gambling" line that the industry and its political supporters push.

Now here's an even more intriguing bit: In the same poll, the same size majority that supports slots also believes that it is inappropriate to use state dollars to prop up the horse industry. In other words, voters do not buy the central argument that has been used for slots since the issue first came up many years ago. Voters see no nexus between legalizing gambling and trying to bolster a sport that is fading away.

Voters are savvy and skeptical folks. We like to have our hopes raised, to be inspired and led, but we're nobody's patsy--collectively, we see right through the pols' phony explanations. So even while I believe that it's wrong to fix a budget crisis by relying on dollars from poor people, I'm glad to see that Marylanders aren't buying the bit about how we need slots to save horse racing and its allied industries. I only wish the pols weren't so cynical as to refuse to raise revenues responsibly and to rely instead on sucking coins from retirees and the unemployed.

By Marc Fisher |  January 22, 2008; 7:48 AM ET
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O'Malley is sick of slots? Well, I'm sick of him. What I don't like about the idea of slots is that this will be just another cookie jar for O'Malley and the Mikes to stick their grubby little fingers in. EVERY time a new funding source is identified, they say things like "the money will go to education"; and every time the overall funding for education (or whatever) stays the same, they just take it from a different place.

But the saddest thing is that the citizens of Maryland are so gullible that they believe that our budget is in shambles (even though the special session raised an additional 1.5 billion dollars to cover the 1.5 billion dollars of new spending this year) and that we "need" this money.

And how do we get the truth out? Now that's what I'd really like to find out.

Posted by: annapolis, md | January 22, 2008 8:27 AM

Yep, I'm sick of slots too - sick of the idea that they'll provide a free lunch for the state, sick of easy answers being proffered for tough questions, sick of the thoroughly American desire to take the money and run away from the future. Government expands to fill the money available to it, so in a few years we'll be back in the same hole. Slots will solve no problems and create many, but they'll sure prevent us from having to make any hard decisions for the next couple of years!

Posted by: Lindemann | January 22, 2008 9:02 AM

1) Horse industry is going to die. Why should we support it with our taxes on a thriving industry, computer services. Let the horse industry die because capitalism says it must(no demand), that is what the pols are saying. Let them grow corn for fuel, that's where the money is this year.

2) A lot of us want a casino. The slots plan died under Erlich when he said he would never support a casino, and PG county pulled its support. Casinos bring shows, restaurants, jobs and other benefits that do not come with slot barns. That's what we really want.

3) Let's stop calling gambling a tax on the poor. It's ridiculous.
a) They don't have to play.
b) So what if they do. If they drop 20, 40 , 100 dollars for a couple hours of fun and entertainment, so what. By the same argument an opera house is a tax on the rich who spend 100 dollars a ticket for entertainment there. When we say "tax on the poor", what we are really saying is "the poor cannot afford entertainment, they cannot afford fun, unless they do it at the horse track". Let them have some fun.

Posted by: joe | January 22, 2008 9:05 AM

Me boyo Marty, and his buddy Mickey, clearly hew to the philosophy that no pol ever went broke underestimating the stupidity of the Maryland voter. Judging by the survey results it looks like they've backed a winner.

Posted by: Count Bobulescu | January 22, 2008 9:43 AM

Don't tax you. Don't tax me. Tax that fool behind the tree?

How about a speeding tax? Give them special tags and let them drive as fast as they can to the nearest tree.

Or a jay walking tax? No tickets and you can walk into your grave.

Drug tax?

Sure. Pay the fee and light up.

Oh brave new world!

Posted by: Gary E. Masters | January 22, 2008 9:46 AM

I'm sick of our slot money going to West Virginia and Delaware.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 22, 2008 9:54 AM

Plainly put, if the horse industry dies, so goes a billion-dollar industry. If the benighted voters of Maryland choose this path, they will need to reconcile with the fact that tens of thousands of acres of farmland will dissapear to development. No amount of smart-growth policies will keep this from happening (think of all the farmland in upper MoCo that's gone for good). By taking a stand against slots, and letting the industry die, you're taking a stand FOR turning much of central Maryland into...New Jersey. Give it a few years, folks.

The horse breeding industry keeps thousands of acres OFF THE MARKET and GREEN. This is an environmental issue- and no amount of grandstanding by ignorant columnists such as Mr. Fisher will change this face. A HORSE FARM HAS A LOWER ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT THAN A CLUSTER OF TOWNHOMES. GET THIS THRU YOUR THICK HEADS.

Posted by: Scipio | January 22, 2008 10:01 AM

Either way, I commend the decision (some credit going to O'Malley) to let the tax-payers of MD actually vote on this. Voters should have more opportunities like this to determine the future of their state. No one should be afraid to step up and take part in the American process.

Posted by: Donny | January 22, 2008 10:27 AM

I'm sick of slots.

But I'm also sick of taxes. Why don't they just hold an auction and sell off all the Maryland jobs that don't get created because the state thinks they can tax and tax and tax.

Just look at the Beltway on the way to Northern Virginia every morning.

Let those who are idiot enough to gamble their money away on slots be able to do so.

MAYBE the state should stop spending so much money!

Posted by: Anonymous | January 22, 2008 11:30 AM

Is there any way to disconnect the issues of slots and support for the horse industry? Will the amendment specify that a portion of the slots proceeds MUST go to horse racing?
I can support slots if the money is going to other budget items/services rather than bailing out a dying form of entertainment.
Finally , I also do not buy the argumeny of slots as a tax on the poor. Will the advent of slot machines attract MORE poor people to gamble or to gamble more than is now spent on Keno, lotteries, scratch offs ? I hardly think so.

Posted by: jmsbh | January 22, 2008 11:31 AM

Wow Scipio.....must have hit a nerve.
So please explain....if the horse industry is a billion dollar + enterprise, is there still a need for the state to "bail out" the incompetence and support wealthy track owners and horse breeders. This at the same time health needs for our citizens are not being met and enhancing our educational programs pre-K thru college are threatened. If the horse industry can not survive in the free market, is it appropriate to take precious resources away from the transportation needs, security, safety and vital needs of the citizens? We can do better than Atlantic City (check it out) and other venues that chase the "fools gold."

Posted by: wdb | January 22, 2008 11:37 AM

For all of those enlightened voters who put Ehrlich (a fiscal conservative who supported slots) out of office, and O'Malley (a tax and spend liberal who declared himself above such a morally bankrupt solution as slots) into office: What do we have now? O'Malley's reliance on slots, plus the added bonus of increased taxes for all of us. I suppose the citizens of Maryland really can have their cake and eat it too. In this case, however, the cake is more akin to a cow pie. Way to go, Maryland. Choke it down.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 22, 2008 11:53 AM

1) So the argument to bail out the horse farms is to prevent development. I would rather let them go under, then have the state by the land and make a park. It would be cheaper long term, and would assure green space. Everybody loves parks.

2)There is more to the environmental issue then green space that make the world look better. Horse farms are like really big lawns. They fertilize, which runs off into the bay, use diesel tractors with no emission controls, and the hog up land that could be covered with trees.

So get this thru your thick skull, just because it's green, it's not good. IF IT'S NOT A TREE, THEN IT DOES NOT HELP.

Posted by: joe | January 22, 2008 12:01 PM

Actually horse farms produce a lot of methane gas from the horses when they fart and from their manure as it decomposes. Methane does more damage than carbon emissions. Then we have the pollution generated by the diesel and gas poered equipment.

State if MD needs to create virtual casinos where we can got gamble without leaving the comfort of our homes and collect taxes on the revenue generated.

Less govt is better cut spending first.

Posted by: Methane gas | January 22, 2008 12:08 PM

I'm not a big fan of slots for lots of reasons, all personal.

But people like Joe need to do a little investigation and put a little thought into the matter before they start using the environment as a good excuse for slots.

Fact: Horse farms pay taxes; state owned parks do not. Turning the farms into parks will lower the state income ... do you really think O'Malley is going to cut his spending when the income goes down?

Not likely.

You also mention "the state should buy the land". With what? According to O'Malley, we are broke. Are you going to take the profits from the slots to buy the land? Good idea. After the land is paid for you can use the money from the slots to pay for forest rangers and liability insurance. That leaves how much slot money to pay for "services"?

Fact: Horse farms grow hay ... this needs very little fertilizer because it is basically a weed. The tractors they use are only used to sow the seeds and cut the hay - twice a year.

Compare the air pollution generated by those tractors to the 100's of thousands of cars/trucks/buses, etc. that will be going to wherever the slots are located. Which is going to have a greater negative impact on the environment?

I will take the environmental impact of the horse farms over the impact we will have when a couple hundred thousand (or more) extra gasoline/diesel fueled vehicles hit the road for those trips to the slot machines.

The environment is not a good reason to pick slots over horse racing.

Personally, I could do without both. But since the good folks in Montgomery, Prince Georges, and Baltimore Counties put this idiot in office (check the records, O'Malley lost in St. Mary's County) we are all stuck with him ... for a couple more years at least.

Posted by: SoMD | January 22, 2008 1:29 PM

Damn. I demand a recount. In this case, that means another poll by some neutral party.

Posted by: Downtown Rez | January 22, 2008 9:43 PM

The funny thing that everyone seems to forget is that though many of you may say this is a tax on the "POOR" or that we are taking money from the retirement community or that slots would bring good money to a dieing industry - you are all very wrong - Marylanders are going out of state to many slots/casino operations and spending their retirement money or spending their money received from our state jsut to gamble in others. Why not keep that money in Maryland and then subsequently help Maryland in ways it will never be helped by surrounding states...everyone seems to forget that those that want to gamble will do so and they will take their hard eraned or state given money and gamble it somewhere be it in Maryland or in a neighboring state or a state like Nevada...Yes there is an arguement that can be made that slots/gambling may be a bad thing but just as others given rights in this country I/you/they can do what I/you/they want with our money be it spending on gambling or not. You will not stop gambling BUT what you can do is give the people of YOUR state a controlled environment that is in OUR state that will benefit OUR state and not those surrounding us. Just my opinion and I am most definately sure someone will have an opinion on my opinion.

Posted by: Horse Supporter | January 24, 2008 9:50 AM

Our founding fathers admonished us that "freedom demands virtue and discipline". The state of MD prospectively enticing it's citizens into slots-casino gambling discards both virtue and discipline. Look at PA, just now, as a prime example of the official, greedy, rot which immediately flourishes with large-scale, legalized, casino gambling. "Fool's gold" best describes the hypnotic attraction of slots-casinos as a source of revenue for Maryland.

Posted by: Dave Thompson | February 26, 2008 3:12 PM

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