Opponents of slot machine gambling were chagrined to pick up today's Baltimore Sun and find that the paper's editorial board reversed itself after years of opposing gambling.
Critics charged the newspaper of "buckling to corporate pressure and selling out Maryland."
"(I)t appears the editorial decisions are being made by corporate suits in Illinois, the Tribune Company, and not by the independent editorial board here in Maryland," said Scott Arceneaux, senior adviser to Marylanders United to Stop Slots, a committee urging a "no" vote on Question 2.
Slots critics had gotten wind of the pro-slots editorial, and were prepared with examples of past editorials that had blasted an expansion of gambling.
In 1999, the paper called slots "an invitation to corruption and addiction," and a 2002 editorial said "you just can't gamble your way to fiscal health." In 2004, the paper called slot machines "a robbing of Peter to pay Paul that would disproportionately cannibalize and cut jobs at nearby restaurants and retailers."
Baltimore Sun publisher Timothy Ryan and members of the editorial board would not discuss last week how the decision came about. They said the endorsement, which called the current fiscal crisis "extraordinary times," would speak for itself.
"Without new revenue, Marylanders face truly unacceptable choices," the editorial said. "Public education and health care for the disadvantaged represent the majority of state spending and therefore cannot be held harmless in this cash-strapped environment. Both will soon suffer as budget cuts grow deeper and deeper. The prospect of higher taxes is just as ruinous an alternative if in raising taxes the government winds up dampening prospects for economic recovery."
Opponents of slots were more pleased with the decision by the editorial board of The Washington Post, which also issued its stance on Question 2 on Sunday.
"Before Maryland's faltering economy became the referendum's selling point, slots supporters said that the machines were needed to save the state's horse-racing industry. One-sixth of slots revenue would sweeten race purses, an unnecessary subsidy that would mostly benefit out-of-state owners and Maryland's wealthiest breeders," the Post's editorialists said. "Why should the state spend its dwindling dollars to bolster wealthy breeders rather than, say, Chesapeake Bay watermen? Maryland had the good sense to rid itself of the machines 40 years ago, and voters should continue to resist the glow of slot machines and the false promise of pain-free revenue they represent."
So add the Baltimore Sun editorial board to the list of those – like House Speaker Mike Busch – who were against slots before they were for it.