Joseph D. Tydings, ex-U.S. senator, ex-U.S. attorney, yesterday returned to public service. He is leading a blue-ribbon task force studying casino gambling in Maryland. The group's decisions could prove pivotal in determining the fate of expanded gambling in this state.
Under normal circumstances, this should be an enormous and ambitious undertaking. Turning Maryland into a mecca for casinos and slot-machine venues cannot be undertaken without thorough and thoughtful study and analysis. The implications are immense.
But Mr. Tydings and his fellow task force members don't have the luxury of giving the matter an exhaustive review. They have to report back to the governor and legislature by the end of the year. So the group must, of necessity, focus on a few fundamental questions to be answered.
First and foremost is what Gov. Parris N. Glendening calls "the threshold question": "Should we have casino gambling in Maryland at all?"
This entails finding out the benefits in jobs and economic growth that could flow from casinos.
How casinos impact other businesses is another key question. Will restaurants and hotels suffer or flourish? Will neighborhoods be uplifted or devastated by casinos in their midst? Will casinos be the death knell or salvation for horse racing? How badly will the state lottery games be hurt and how much in lost revenue will this cost the state?
Then there are the ethical questions. Are casinos a good thing for our children? Are they temptations that could create more gambling addicts? Will they be good or bad for the state's quality of life?
And finally the panel must delve into casinos and crime. Will organized crime come into Maryland? Do criminal elements flock to states where casinos are legal?
The Tydings task force will hold public hearings across the state. We also urge the group to conduct out-of-state meetings, especially with New Jersey experts on the Atlantic City experience. It's the closest parallel for what could happen in Maryland.
So far, the casino debate has been driven almost entirely by high-paid casino lobbyists. There's been no grass-roots clamor for casinos. The lobbyists have even devised their own legislation to bring in the casinos and have decided by themselves how many casinos Maryland ought to have. Elected officials have been ignored.
It is time for the governor and legislature to seize control of this subject and send lobbyists to the sidelines. The Tydings task force can serve a valuable purpose by focusing on the key issues of the gambling debate and recommending a course of action for our elected leaders.