IF THERE WAS uncertainty about Gov. Parris N. Glendening's position on electronic gambling in Maryland, the governor removed all doubts this week by emphatically pulling the plug on all potential slot-machine and casino ventures while he's in office.
He won't introduce any legislation "to allow the expansion of casino gambling or slot machines in Maryland."
He won't "support any casino or slot legislation introduced by others."
And finally, "No bill that authorizes slot machines or casinos will pass my desk."
There's no wiggle room in these statements. No way to backtrack. Slots and casinos are dead while Mr. Glendening is governor.
That being the case, it's not surprising that legislative leaders were quick to bury the issue. Why waste precious time during next year's 90-day General Assembly session arguing over slots and casinos when the governor is so adamantly opposed?
The governor expressed surprise and anger that interest in legalizing slots at Maryland race tracks had intensified during his two-week vacation. But he has no one to blame but himself. For a year, he kept alive the slim hopes of racing officials that he would embrace slots for their tracks to counter Delaware's successful slot-machine venture. Then he allowed Mayor Kurt Schmoke to get the impression that the governor was still open to a slots deal that would mean $25 million in annual revenue to Baltimore City schools.
What the governor should have said to racing leaders and to the mayor was what he said this week: No, no, no!
This extricates Mr. Glendening from an increasingly perilous free fall. His credibility and his public standing were at stake. For a politician with an approval rating in opinion polls of just 37 percent, bold action was required.
More bold steps will be needed. Now Mr. Glendening must find money to increase aid to Baltimore City schools, though state agencies could face a 7 percent cut in spending next year. He also must handle a budding crisis at state race tracks, which will require considerable financing assistance to survive.
One thing's for certain, though: No longer can slot machines and casinos be bandied about as the all-purpose panacea for everything that ails Maryland. Gambling isn't an elixir, only a dangerous addiction. Governor Glendening, having been tempted, thankfully has regained his moral compass.
Pub Date: 8/14/96