One-Armed Revenue Raisers
By Patrick Weadon
As a 56-year-old, I can remember the time when slot machines were legal in the southern counties of Maryland. In the summer of 1967, I spent two weeks at Camp St. Charles in Charles County. My family looked forward to the trip because they would almost always stop at a Popes Creek crab house to play the slots. One year, one of my aunts won the $500 dollar jackpot (big bucks in those days). I grew up viewing gambling as a legitimate activity that adults engaged in periodically for fun.
Fast-forward to 1976. I was attending college at Towson State and became friends with some students from Charles County. One day, over a couple of beers, I made the mistake of asking them if their parents were sad to see the slots leave in 1968. I assumed that the countys economy had benefited from the machines and that a few do-gooders in the legislature had ruined the fun.
To my surprise, all of them passionately denounced my premise. They informed me that most people who lived in Charles County had been glad to see the machines go away because slots had increased crime and corruption and created an environment where far too many county councilmen and sheriffs were on the payroll of the gambling interests.
From these apparently mutually exclusive perspectives, I came to the conclusion that gambling had the potential to be a good thing, but that it was imperative to regulate and closely scrutinize places like Maryland Live! Casino.
But while there are definite drawbacks to increasing the number of casinos in Maryland, the fact is that gambling in our state has the power to address a vexing problem. Namely, that too many Marylanders, particularly those in Anne Arundel County, consistently demand a wide range of services, but balk at paying the level of taxes it takes to support them.
In my opinion, then, we should use the profits from our casinos to fund the portion of taxes that the public refuses to pay to shore up our states educational institutions, infrastructure and racing industry. Therefore, there are good reasons to support an additional casino in Prince Georges County.
In addition, our leaders should work to build a state-of-the-art casino, race track and arena complex in Baltimore City, to ensure that the Preakness stays in Maryland and that our states most important city can generate the revenue it needs to sustain itself for the future.
Mr. Cordish will no doubt complain, but I will not lose any sleep over the fact that if a casino is built in Prince Georges County, he will be forced to settle for being millionaire rather than a billionaire. Lets be honest: owning a casino is a license to print money. I know some have failed in the past, but most of the time when a gambling establishment goes south its because someone is skimming profits or mismanaging the enterprise.
With this in mind, in the special session the legislature should increase the tax on slots from 67 to 80 percent and insist that henceforth, the owners rather than the state, should foot the bill for the machines. Back in June, the chief of MGM Resorts International claimed that the Maryland tax on slots was egregiously high. Recently, he has changed his tune. The truth is that if anything is egregiously high it is the profits these businesses make. Common sense dictates that we should increase the number of casinos but at the same time, use the obscene profits they generate to make our state a better place.