October 7, 2008
The last poll I saw on slots showed about 54 percent of Marylanders still supporting a state constitutional amendment allowing the gambling machines. That support was not as large as it appeared to be eight or nine months ago, which fits a theory I have: The closer we get to Election Day, the more people will think about this, and the more they think about it, the more of a tossup the outcome. It all comes down to which of the following attitudes prevail.
Hooked and happy
You and your sister and your friends have been taking the bus to Atlantic City for years, hon. You started going to Delaware and West Virginia after those states set up machines at the tracks. You don't care for the horses and never play them. You like the machines. You don't want to drive to other states anymore and would welcome slots to Maryland. You're voting for them.
Oy, enough already
You hate this subject. It's an achievement just to have you read this far into another column about it. You couldn't give a rat's tail about slots, and you have no intention of ever going to a slots parlor. You are profoundly sick of the issue and the arguments from both sides. But you've seen polls indicating that a majority of Marylanders support the referendum; you think it's going to pass. So, to ensure that it finally goes away as an issue, you intend to vote for it.
It's the economy, stupid
Unemployment is up, even in government job-rich Maryland. Prices are up, Wall Street and your 401(k) are down. The state is expecting a billion-dollar budget shortfall next year. You were thinking of buying a new car but decided to hold off. Your house value has dropped 15 percent to 20 percent. You're convinced we're already in a recession and might be for a while. So, you're thinking that revenue from slots might help - even if people who can least afford to do so will be the ones putting money into the machines. You try not to think about that part too much. You'll vote for slots.
Drawing a line
You're still stuck in moral objections. You understand that state-sponsored gambling has been around for more than 30 years. You know that Maryland, like many other states, benefits from games that provide a valuable source of revenue for state programs, including education for your children and grandchildren. Your gut tells you this is all wrong, that most of these games constitute a tax on low-income families. So, you've decided the state should stop at Lottery and Keno. You can tolerate legalized gambling up to a point - that deal was made long ago - but you want to draw the line at slots. You're against the referendum.
Drawing a line and stepping over it
You have all the same moral objections and historical understanding I just mentioned, but you don't believe a line should be drawn. Once the state legalized numbers games with the Lottery back in the 1970s, it was just a matter of time before all gambling expanded and casinos became relatively common. Slots, Keno, craps - what's the diff? You can tap into the morality questions any time you feel like having an argument with yourself, but why give yourself a headache? You're voting for slots.
A vote for Barbaro
You have this picture in your mind of Maryland as a state of horsiness. You drive through the Worthington Valley, or past Country Life Farm in Bel Air, or through a still-bucolic stretch of Frederick County or Montgomery County, and you see the emerald acres and the white board fences, and you imagine a Maryland from back in the day, when there was a much larger horse breeding and training industry, and Mr. Vanderbilt owned Mr. Native Dancer. You are a sentimental sucker for the argument that slots will boost the thoroughbred arts and make races at our tracks more attractive. You loved Barbaro, who trained here. You're voting for slots.
Slots are bad business
You have a good, white-collar job, with a government agency or financial institution, law firm or university. You might be a schoolteacher or software developer, a researcher at Hopkins or a high-tech analyst with a defense contractor. You might own your own business. You still read newspapers. You know that slot machines do not represent genuine economic development. You would rather see Maryland put more effort into recruiting emerging, sustainable businesses that contribute to a better society and a better world - green technologies, alternative energy sources, biomedical research and pharmaceuticals. You think slots represent a sleazy, lazy concept of economic development. For you, slots say something is profoundly wrong with the direction of the country, and you don't want to have any part in it. You're voting against.
Sick of fat cats
You are generally suspicious of the pro-slots argument and the gambling interests pushing it. You resent outsiders trying to tell you how to vote, too. You have a vivid memory of 1988. That was the year the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun forces poured a ton of money into an effort to kill a state referendum to prohibit cheap handguns, known as Saturday night specials, used in a lot of shootings and homicides here. Marylanders so resented big money coming into the state and making obnoxious buys of advertising that the law passed overwhelmingly. You will vote against the slots referendum because you look at the pro-slots side and see no one there but fat cats and politicians. And you're sick of fat cats and politicians.
Dan Rodricks can be heard on "Midday" from noon to 2 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays on 88.1 WYPR-FM.
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