Maryland voters are faced with a controversial question about the expansion of gambling in the state on the Nov. 6 ballot. An astronomical amount of money has been poured into ads both for and against Question 7. Still, its likely impact remains murky.
That should be no surprise. Part of the problem is that all the estimates project into an unpredictable future. In addition, the endless television commercials and other ads are aimed more at skewing than clarifying the already complicated issue.
After all, the people sponsoring those ads have skin in the game. Fortunes will be made or lost on Nov 6. Voters have to look into the issue for themselves and vote for what they think is best for Maryland. The best counterweight to the increasing influence of money in our political system is an informed electorate.
The question before voters will appear on the ballot as follows:
"Do you favor the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education to authorize video lottery operation licensees to operate "table games" as defined by law; to increase from 15,000 to 16,500 the maximum number of video lottery terminals that may be operated in the State; and to increase from 5 to 6 the maximum number of video lottery operation licenses that may be awarded in the State and allow a video lottery facility to operate in Prince George's County?"
Staunch opponents speculate that Question 7 would not increase the amount of money the state spends on education. They correctly point out that the law does not explicitly state that more money coming from the expansion of gambling will necessarily ensure that other sources of education funding are not reduced.
Still, as someone who graduated from a Baltimore City public school just four years ago, I believe Question 7 should be approved.
Even if the annual budget to Maryland's education doesn't increase as a result of the casino expansion, there will still be a bigger guaranteed source of money for Maryland's educational trust fund. This will ensure financial backing for education in Maryland for years to come. Take it from someone who has sat in the overheated auditoriums, read the scarred books and played ball on the overgrown fields and dusty gym floors in my city: the promise of more money is better than the reality of less.
Another critique of the expansion of gambling is that many of the jobs created will largely be low wage. Even accepting that critique (and many people disagree about the types of jobs to be created), low-wage jobs are better than no job at all. Many argue that people will not be able to support a family on the wages they are paid. People struggle to support their family even more when there are no wages. Essentially, it's a question of low wages versus no wages. Clearly, low wages prevail. And low-wage jobs often prepare workers for better ones down the road.
Casinos may not be the most attractive industry to have in Maryland. However, they are here now — and without table games. There are already five casinos in the state. The opening of a sixth should not be so controversial. Also, since there are slot machines in the casinos, the addition of table games only seems logical. The income generated provides job opportunities and revenue to the state. This increase in funds, even if it does not increase the annual budget to the state schools, gives the government the opportunity to fund social programs whose financial support was decreased significantly in the wake of the Great Recession. These funding cuts affected programs for things such as healthcare, higher education, and investment in infrastructure.
Question 7 is a win because of the opportunities, however imperfect, that it offers.
In my view, Marylanders should vote in favor of the measure on Nov. 6.