Slots debaters work to sway voters
Question on whether to allow gambling machines will be on November ballots
Raphael Talisman/The Gazette
As he stood before a group of Progressive Cheverly residents Sept. 4, Maryland Secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulation Thomas E. Perez knew he wasn't going to make many new believers for legalizing slot machines this fall.
"But if I were standing in Baltimore County, and I asked this same question, they'd say, Cut services and legalize slots,'" Perez told the crowd of about 40 at the Judith P. Hoyer Early Childhood Education Center. "That is the ideological diversity in this state."
Forget Obama vs. Clinton. In Maryland this fall, the issue dividing Democrat voters is a ballot question that will determine whether to allow the gambling machines at five locations in the state, including one across the county line in Laurel.
While Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and others have touted their plan to allow the machines as a way to get $600 million a year for education and other programs, foes — many in Prince George's County — see it as a dangerous move that could create gambling addicts out of the state's poorest residents.
"It's nothing but a scam," said state Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Dist. 22) of University Park.
The forum in Cheverly was the first of many events slated this fall in the run-up to the Nov. 4 referendum. Slots opponents have planned a rally Wednesday in Accokeek, where members of the NAACP plan to voice their objections to the machines.
"Even though slots are not proposed for Prince George's County, this referendum is not race agnostic and, if passed, the slots owners will heavily target inner Beltway communities," said rally organizer James L. Proctor III.
Speaking against slots at the forum, Pinsky argued that state revenue estimates for slots will decline over time and aren't worth allowing the machines around the state.
"What's the value for our state, for our society?" he said. "What if revenue goes down one year? Does the governor plan on going on TV and asking people to gamble more?"
O'Malley's slot referendum marks the first time voters get to weigh in on the issue that has been debated in Annapolis since the late 1990s. O'Malley proposed his slots plan as one of multiple ways to balance a $1.5 billion deficit, which includes a state pledge to increase education spending.
"I wish I had a world in which the only public policy we passed only had benefits and no costs," said Perez, who said the plan is designed to minimize the negative effects of slots, including directly taxing more than 67 percent of the revenues from the machines.
Slots supporters warn that the state will likely further slash funding if the referendum fails.
"I'm willing to concede it's not perfect," Perez said. "[But if it fails], we will get another memo from the governor telling us to cut more."
In its current form, the slots referendum will appear as Question 2 on ballots this fall. Yes votes are to approve the slot machine plan while No votes show opposition.
E-mail Daniel Valentine at firstname.lastname@example.org.