Carroll County's fraternal organizations should not be allowed to bully the county commissioners and State House delegation into legalizing video poker machines in the county. While video poker games would be a lucrative source of revenue for these clubs, the price for the rest of society is far too high.
Video poker machines are nothing more than glorified electronic slot machines. The machines usually offer players a choice of 10 games, ranging from bingo to something resembling Maryland's instant lottery. Players choose options by touching the screen and would pick up their winnings from the lodge's bartender or cashier.
The individual payoffs are modest -- usually a few dollars per hand -- but over a year the revenue from these machines can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
To make this type of gambling palatable, video poker's proponents say they will donate half of the gross profits to charity and even spin a magnanimous 10 percent off for the county. At a time when all charities and local governments are cash-starved, legalized video poker games may appear quite enticing. But government and worthwhile charities should not allow themselves to become accomplices to this pernicious kind of activity.
The machines are high-powered magnets for organized crime. A slot that costs $7,000 to install can easily produce annual revenues of $100,000 or more -- cash flow that makes them natural targets for underworld groups seeking to divert money illegally from legitimate operations to their own pockets.
In addition, a survey by the Center for Gamblers Anonymous in Maryland found that fully half of gambling addictions involve slot and video poker machines. Worse, people playing these machines are likely to be on low or fixed incomes. The fact that a fraternal organization rather than a profit-making casino is draining their pockets hardly mitigates the damage done by out-of-control gambling by people who are least able to afford it. In addition, this gambling has the real potential of ruining families and lives.
Despite the state's shameless promotion of and addiction to lottery revenues, harnessing human greed and gullibility to raise money -- even for charitable causes -- is unconscionable. County elected officials should resist the attempt to reach for those least likely to resist -- the working poor and the gambling-addicted.