Q&A on the Politics of Gambling
Thursday, August 20, 1998
Here’s a decent bet: Slot machines in Maryland will be an election issue this year.
Why? Because the debate over expanded gambling in the state specifically through the introduction of racetrack slots has cropped up every year since Gov. Parris N. Glendening took office.
The controversy over slots and their impact is neither new nor limited to Maryland. As State Sen. Arthur Dornan (D-Prince George’s) predicted, the issue of slot machine gambling “is going to come back and come back and come back.”
Who wants slot machines in Maryland?
Who opposes slots?
When did the proposals emerge?
In the 1994 gubernatorial campaign, neither Glendening nor Republican nominee Ellen R. Sauerbrey said they would rule out more gambling in the state, if elected. The issue took on new life after Delaware’s racetracks, which draw thousands of Marylanders each year, introduced slots in December 1995.
What's the history of Maryland gambling?
In the '70s, the state established its lottery and approved “charity casinos” for non-profit organizations. Prince George’s County, where Glendening once served as county executive, was home to 16 twice-a-week casinos that as recently as 1995 grossed $26 million in revenues, millions in taxes, and helped pay for fire equipment and social programs.
The charity casinos were closed last year, after allegations that operators were skimming profits. Glendening backed the move.
Has the governor changed his stance?
But Glendening denied he had agreed to any proposal. He said he was “philosophically opposed” to slots at tracks but would consider them with evidence the horse racing industry was “being negatively affected by slot machines at racetracks in nearbly states.”
Two weeks later, Glendening clarified his position again. “No bill that authorizes slots will pass my desk,” he announced. “I am locking the door and throwing away the key. “
What was the political fallout?
Two primary election candidates, Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann and former Redskin player Ray Schoenke, supported using racetrack slots to fund education. Rehrmann won the backing of Schmoke and another former Glendening ally, Prince George’s County Executive Wayne K. Curry.
But by August, both candidates had withdrawn from the race.
Have the slots been profitable elsewhere?
The numbers have spawned similar proposals in states including New Mexico, Kansas, New Hampshire and Louisiana.
How does the public feel?
By June, a Washington Post poll concluded 54 percent of respondents backed slots and 42 percent opposed them. But the slot opponents are twice as likely as supporters to vote based on their stance.
What comes next in the battle for slots?
And some believe the casino and racetrack lobbyists might ignore the governor’s race and turn their sights to legislative races. With enough supporters in the Assembly, they could override any governor’s veto.
Meanwhile, the tracks have begun considering other options to lure bettors. This fall, Laurel and Pimlico will be among nine tracks broadcasting races on a new cable gaming network that will allow viewers to place bets by pushing a button on their television remote control.
How do I learn more?
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