The question arises partly because of unmistakable evidence that the two top politicians who shoved the measure into law are fully aware that gambling hurts the middle-class and low-income people whom their Democratic Party purports to protect.
Both Gov. Martin O’Malley and Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. have bluntly acknowledged that gambling is a lousy way for governments to raise revenue. It disproportionately drains money from less-affluent classes who bet hoping for a statistically unlikely windfall.
Casino gambling is “a fad, it’s a fancy, it’s wrong, it’s not the way to fund government,” Miller said early Wednesday. He spoke shortly after the General Assembly approved the gambling bill, of which Miller was the most conspicuous champion.
O’Malley gave the plan decisive support even after famously calling gambling a “piss-poor way to advance the common good.”
O’Malley and Miller have consistently said they backed the new casino bill anyway because it’s one of the only ways in the current economy to create jobs and find fresh money for education and other worthy purposes.
But some dissenters, notably Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), say the Democratic Party has betrayed its base by succumbing to casino industry influence.
“A small group of special-interest folks on the inside, who are largely predatory on the middle class, they get special treatment from Annapolis,” Franchot, a likely candidate for governor in 2014, said in a telephone interview. “You should be appalled at the hijacking of your state government.”
Franchot didn’t single out campaign donations to O’Malley and Miller but instead said that the industry’s influence was generally corrosive.
According to information provided by the government watchdog organization Common Cause, O’Malley received $135,000 between 2006 and 2011 in contributions from casinos, bidders for Maryland casino licenses and horse-racing interests. The amount for Miller during that period was $53,000.
Those aren’t huge numbers for a top state official, but they’re not insignificant. In an apparent sign of sensitivity over the issue, O’Malley’s office told me in a short statement Wednesday that his new, federal political-action committee will not accept “any political contributions related to the gambling expansion in Maryland or casino interests.”
The “O’ Say Can You See” committee is widely seen as designed to support a possible O’Malley run for the presidency in 2016.
The new gambling law backed by O’Malley also bans political contributions in Maryland from gambling companies and anybody owning 5 percent of a casino company. That comes rather late, however: Activists have supported such a clampdown since 2003, and now the state seems set to be saturated with casinos.