PENNSYLVANIA'S decision to start sullying its landscape with up to 61,000 slot machines at racetracks and other locations has sent Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) into yet another calculated tizzy. "It becomes imperative that we move forward immediately" to follow suit, Mr. Miller declared, calling for a special session in August to slap together a bill as quickly as possible. Otherwise, he would have us believe, the Pennsylvania action could condemn Maryland to permanent insolvency as one of the only slots-deprived enclaves in the region besides Virginia, which knows better.
Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) , while not yet on any summer-session bandwagon, also points to Pennsylvania's plunge as an alarm bell for Maryland. House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) so far has rejected the idea of a special session unless it's restricted to authorizing a November referendum on an amendment to Maryland's constitution that would allow an expansion of gambling to include slot machines. Though an amendment isn't necessary to authorize slots, Mr. Busch's proposal would allow voters to decide the slots issue directly -- and bypass Mr. Ehrlich, who would be unable to veto an amendment proposal passed by a super-majority vote in both chambers of the legislature. But why a mad rush to fiddle with the state constitution? Mr. Ehrlich calls the maneuver "poor public policy." Besides, nothing resembling a clear idea of what would be allowed has jelled in Annapolis.
As it happens, Maryland at this point is among the states whose revenue forecasts are improving. And the slot machine issue has to do not with how other states are tying their fortunes to heavy gambling but with how Marylanders envision their neighborhoods. How many residents want to live close to slots parlors and -- sure to follow -- casinos with table games? How much money would Maryland realize after the gambling interests and track owners took their cuts? And how much would be left after the costs of addiction and crime were taken into account?
More than a few business leaders have noted that resistance to slot-machine gambling could be a plus in attracting industries that do not relish locating in a "Las Vegas East" setting. Part of Maryland's appeal is its reputation as one of the wealthiest and best-educated populations in the country. That merits serious consideration, not a hasty, midsummer leap to bring on big-time gambling.