Voters Pass Slots Referendum in Maryland

By John Wagner and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 4, 2008; 10:56 PM

Maryland voters have agreed to amend the state constitution and allow slot machine gambling at five locations, a ballot measure that breaks a perennial stalemate in Annapolis.

With support for the measure running strong across the state as votes are being counted, the referendum has now racked up enough votes to ensure its passage

The plan, backed by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), will allow up to 15,000 machines at locations in Allegany, Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester counties and Baltimore.

O'Malley and other slots boosters, who enjoyed a sizable fundraising advantage during the campaign, cast the measure as a way to help balance the state budget and aid Maryland's ailing horse-racing industry. Opponents questioned estimates that slots could eventually yield $660 million a year for education and highlighted addiction and other social ills that could accompany expanded gambling.

As voters went to the polls in overwhelming numbers today, debate over the measure was as impassioned at some locations as it has been in recent years in the General Assembly. In heavily Democratic Takoma Park, Matthew Graham and Jared Hughes engaged in a boisterous debate about the issue.

"Government should not promote and support a vice," said Hughes, 36, operations manager for FotoWeek DC. "It's a tax on poor people."

Matthew Graham, a patent engineer, countered him, saying Maryland already has gambling via the lottery and racetracks.

"The little old ladies who play slots don't do a lot of crime," said Graham, 48.

Some voters said they could not support the referendum because of social ills associated with gambling.

"It is a slimy way to raise money," said Gary Gunn, 54, of Chesapeake Beach, who was selling Krispy Kreme donuts to raise money for his son's Boy Scout troop outside Windy Hill Middle School.

Others insisted passage of the referendum could help education, a view that carried the day.

"I'm naively optimistic that it's eventually going to funnel back to the schools," said Jesse Boyer, 37, who voted in Takoma Park. "I have two little kids.

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