It now seems likely that Maryland voters will reject the expansion of gambling by voting no on Question 7 on election day. Admittedly, with the help of funding from Penn National (owner of one of Maryland’s existing casinos), voters this year are actually hearing both sides of the debate. Once Maryland voters are informed of the facts, a majority will decide to vote against the referendum.
When the people of Maryland approved slots a few years ago, they were fed a constant diet of false promises from out of state casino operators who wanted to expand into Maryland. The false claims were repeated endlessly by the local politicians whose fealty the gambling lobby had purchased with campaign contributions and the false hope of “new money” without raising taxes. Those of us who opposed state-sponsored gambling lacked the financial resources to stage a fair fight back then – but we did make several predictions:
- We said that the projected income from Maryland’s first five casinos would never achieve the returns that the pro-gambling commercials touted.
- We said bringing slots to Maryland would inspire surrounding states to expand to table games in a never-ending race to the bottom.
- We said the politicians, who had been suckered by the lure of fast money from state sponsored casinos, would soon be coming back for more – more casinos and adding table games.
- We said that compulsive gambling would skyrocket in jurisdictions around the new casinos (as it has across the nation, wherever they have been built.)
The first three of these predictions already have come true. Sadly, the fourth one will come true also. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene stated last year that, “Approximately 1 in 30 Maryland adults have a gambling problem” – and that number is rising. The business models that casino operators depend upon require the creation of problem gamblers to satisfy their bottom line.
About ten years ago, when I first became involved in the fight to keep a casino out of my hometown of Laurel, I learned a frightening statistic. The National Council on Problem Gambling, citing various studies from reputable sources such as Yale University, reports that one in five pathological gamblers attempts suicide.
As a pastor, I’ve hosted funerals for suicide victims. I never want to have to do so again. Every Maryland voter should have serious concern that our elected leaders are again asking us to expand state sponsorship of “video lottery terminals,” which are dubbed the crack cocaine of gambling addiction. While harmless fun for some, VLT’s ultimately exploit our most vulnerable citizens. The role of government is to protect, not prey upon its citizens. Don’t be fooled. The “income” to the state from VLT’s will come largely from our neighbors who cannot afford to lose.
But won’t a new casino and table games “keep more money in Maryland”? Won’t expanding gambling provide even more funds for our schools?
The simple answers are “not really” and “No!”
Many of the profits from Maryland’s casinos will go to the multinational corporations who will operate them. Those profits don’t stay in Maryland. Of the state’s share of the plunder, about half will be used for things that gambling’s proponents refuse to mention: Funds will be disbursed to reimburse local governments for increased costs for police and infrastructure, to fatten the purses of the horse racing industry (purses often won by wealthy horse owners from out of state), and a tiny amount will be used to address the issue of gambling addiction that the casinos are now creating.
Gambling revenue does not in any way increase the amount of money going to our schools. Since the Thornton Commission recommendations were enacted a decade ago, the amount of state funding for our schools is a matter of law. When new funds are raised from the seniors who gamble away their social security checks, those funds will go into the Educational Trust fund. However, this simply allows the Governor and the legislature to divert dollars from the general fund that would have gone to education to other things. It is a state sponsored shell game.
Question 7 does not increase the amount spent on education by a single penny. All the lies on the television commercials can never change the fact that Question 7 does not mandate an increase in spending for our schools.
Even if it did, tying educational funding to something so inconsistent as gambling revenue seems like a very bad bet. Our children deserve better.
As a resident of Prince Georges County, I can say that the future of our County does not depend on ripping off our vulnerable citizens; but continuing on the path of a renewed economy of science, technology, and medicine. Question 7 lowers taxes for the millionaires who own the casinos, while it seeks to expand their ability to profit from those with gambling addictions. I hope you will join with me and the majority of informed Maryland voters and vote NO on Question 7.
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