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An apple in the Garden of Eden Casino jackpot: Prediction of new jobs, tax revenue ignores huge social costs of gambling


IT'S TOO BAD the legislature's Department of Fiscal Research didn't come up with a more detailed analysis of the impact casinos would have in Maryland. Instead of a report that carefully examined all the pluses and minuses in depth, the agency issued a glowing forecast of the rewards for Maryland if it legalizes casinos. The destructive social impact of throwing open our doors to casino gambling wasn't fully addressed.

For instance, the report notes that social costs associated with TC single compulsive gambler is at least $56,000. But agency officials failed to project how many problem gamblers would be created by anywhere from six to 12 casinos in Maryland.

We'll do the math for them. A 1990 task force study estimated Maryland had 50,000 pathological gamblers. If those new casinos generate a 5 percent increase in gambling addicts, it would cost society $140 million.

The agency also noted that horse racing would lose up to 30 percent of its patrons and revenue stream from betting. That's a low-ball estimate, track officials say. There was no analysis of the devastation this would create in a $1 billion state industry.

Fiscal Services did produce some rosy numbers that make casino gambling look like a veritable Garden of Eden. One casino in Baltimore would create 7,000 jobs, $38 million in tax revenue and $227 million for the local economy. Multiply that by ten throughout Maryland and it looks like a fantastic windfall.

But that's just one side of the story. It echoes the propaganda disseminated by casino representatives. Beware. These numbers resemble those delicious-looking apples that the Bible said Adam couldn't resist.

Casinos can be killers. After gambling palaces opened in Atlantic City, 60 percent of the restaurants closed. In Gulfport, Miss., after casinos opened in 1992, rapes soared 185 percent; robberies 200 percent, burglaries 110 percent and car thefts 148 percent. Organized crime took over hotel and construction unions in Atlantic City and mobsters were just indicted in New Orleans for controlling video poker machines. Political corruption in Louisiana has reached such extremes that infuriated voters are threatening to ban casinos in a referendum.

The Florida Department of Commerce concluded last year that gambling wasn't an economic development plus. It would harm tourism, hotels and restaurants. The New York state comptroller's office reported casinos had limited revitalization value, would be a crushing blow to racing and would increase the number of problem gamblers.

Is that what we want for Maryland? Taking a bite out of the casino apple would be pure poison. It may look enticing, but watch out.

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