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Gambling is not the solution to our problems

Casino and Gambling IndustryElectionsGovernment Debt

While I would gladly attend a bachelor party in Atlantic City, I would prefer not to raise my children there. However, as Maryland continues to morph into that Sin City of the East, I may not have a choice.

In 2007, Maryland politicians pushed slots on us in cowardly avoidance of real solutions to revenue shortfalls. We now have not only buffets of slots but also electronic table games, with digital dealers so lifelike you swear they are flirting with you. There are no real (human) table games allowed, a fact that made the slots pill a little easier to swallow at the time. This remains a line of demarcation between the Old Line State and Atlantic City.

But shockingly, slots alone have not solved all of our problems. Now, true to form, our fearless leaders are doubling down on gambling and expanding it with an even greedier and dumber proposal. Question 7 on the upcoming ballot is a yes or no vote for Maryland to permit tables games, an extra casino and tax cuts for casino operators.

Perhaps you've seen some of the ads. The first pro-Question 7 commercial I saw showed children exiting a school bus and running to their parents. We are led to believe that the happy parents will hug their children and think, "Thanks, expanded gambling in Maryland!"

This commercial upset me, which is noteworthy. Pretty much nothing upsets me because I don't care about political issues, because I'm a typically disaffected, cynical young adult, because politicians are terrible and homogenous. But somehow, this commercial punctured my apathy and made me care. Purporting to fund education through community-destroying gambling ventures is already sad, but using children to advertise gambling is just heartbreaking.

I appreciate the utopian vision: After a long day at the office, daddy swings by the casino and doubles his day's earnings from an enterprise that enhances the quality of Junior's education. Daddy will never have to leave the state again to feed his addiction. Despite Daddy's winning ways, the casinos still manage to be extraordinarily profitable. Meanwhile, casinos lobby and donate to the politicians who support them. Daddy profits, schools profit, casinos profit, and politicians profit. Norman Rockwell could paint a masterpiece with that.

Unfortunately, reality is a stubborn stitch. Daddy will lose money because casinos are in the business of preying on him, not helping Junior or Maryland. Sorry Daddy. Schools will not see anything extra, since nothing in Question 7 requires an increase in aggregate funding for Maryland schools. Sorry, Junior, about your school and Daddy. The state may get much less money than anticipated as the proliferation of casinos across the region diminishes their individual profitability. Sorry, Maryland. Oh, and crime will increase. Sorry, victims. Politicians won't be held accountable, because apathy and incumbency are frisky lovebirds. Casinos make money, politicians get reelected, electorates shrug. Facts of life. Let's hope Junior learns how to either court donors or rake a craps table.

Thank goodness I am already apathetic and pessimistic, or this would really bum me out. On the bright side, when this utopian vision blurs, we can look forward to a new, even sexier one. Let's see ... when projected revenues from casinos fall short, Maryland will once again be facing a seemingly insurmountable budget deficit. Legislators will be faced with the prospect of making the same budget cuts and tax increases they were faced with pre-casino. Rather than make these tough decisions, they will just find new ways to make easy money. Sinning will become increasingly sanctioned and taxed, regardless of the consequences.

Maybe they will move on to bigger and better sins, and legalize and tax prostitution or marijuana. Imagine the commercials then: "This measure provides good jobs to clean, honest, hardworking Maryland hookers, so that our johns don't give their business to those awful West Virginia hookers. Oh and, uh, it helps children. Think of the children! Do you hate kids? Do you? No? Really? Well then prove it! Vote for hookers."

Sigh. I personally do not care if some extra gambling money goes from Maryland to Delaware or West Virginia or Atlantic City. They are Delaware and West Virginia and Atlantic City. I welcome any way Maryland can remain different from them. I'll take Maryland as it is, warts (slots) and all. I'll trade real table games for real leaders.

Owen Jarvis is an attorney in Baltimore. His email is owenjarvis@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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