All that glitters. . . Is not gold: Net impact of an Inner Harbor casino could be highly destructive.


HERE'S THE BAIT. A quarter-billion-dollar entertainment complex near the Inner Harbor with 2,750 jobs, restaurants and bars holding 1,200 at a time, a 3,500-seat theater, a big banquet room, food court, retail mall and a giant roller coaster for the kids. Oh, and a 85,000 square-foot casino bringing in $46 million a year in gambling taxes.

Sound too good to be true? Well, it is. The plan from Primadonna Resorts, working with hamburger-roll king John Paterakis, is the opening round in the casino industry's effort to buy Baltimore's love. It will promise anything. . . even the city's salvation.

But let's look at the sobering statistical conclusions from the Tydings commission's public hearing this week on casinos for Maryland:

Crime will rise substantially. That has happened in every casino state. Organized crime has its fingerprints all over casinos and ancillary industries, too. These are not our conclusions, but Attorney General J. Joseph Curran's based on a statistical study of 13 states and speaking with dozens of prosecutors and law-enforcement officers. Given the public's fixation on crime, why should Maryland embrace an industry that spawns more crime?

Compulsive gambling will increase dramatically, based on statistics from casino states. One expert projected that just a one percent rise in Maryland problem gamblers would mean an annual loss to our economy of $352 million. After casinos opened in Iowa, the number of compulsive gamblers tripled.

Jobs will not increase much because of job losses in competing businesses. A recent Maryland economic study said so, as did a 1994 Florida study. In fact, the cannibalization factor could be the most damaging. Casinos devour nearby restaurants, hotels, bars, shops and entertainment venues.

Horse racing will lose between 30 and 40 percent of its business. That's the story in other states with casino competition. This could send Maryland's racing industry -- including 900 horse farms -- into a deep depression.

There is no grass-roots movement for casinos, only the manipulative skills of lobbyists being paid six-figure fees to entice and co-opt state legislators, millionaire entrepreneurs looking to add to their wealth and labor groups that stand to benefit from casinos.

Is that what we want for Baltimore? Are we suddenly captives of incredibly wealthy gambling interests? The Tydings commission should waste no time concluding that casinos are bad for Maryland. Then the governor, along with legislative leaders, should bury the issue.

Casinos may glitter, but only fools think such places contain gold.

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