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Maggie McIntosh: Maryland sports gambling revenue will go to schools | COMMENTARY

In this March 8, 2019 photo, a clerk counts money wagered by a customer at the sports betting lounge at the Tropicana casino in Atlantic City New Jersey, one of the states near Maryland that allows sports betting.
In this March 8, 2019 photo, a clerk counts money wagered by a customer at the sports betting lounge at the Tropicana casino in Atlantic City New Jersey, one of the states near Maryland that allows sports betting. (Wayne Parry/AP)

I appreciate those who don’t think it is the right time for sports betting in Maryland, but I wanted to clarify why it is important for Marylanders to vote yes on Question 2 and bring the practice to the state.

Marylanders are already betting on sporting events — they are just doing it in Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia, Washington, D.C. and soon Virginia.

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It is true that the General Assembly still has work to do when we resume in January to hammer out the details of how revenue from sports gambling would be dispersed. But we can’t delay sports gambling as our children and teachers, because of COVID-19, have already been working for half a year under even more challenging circumstances than we faced when we passed the Kirwan Commission recommendations to increase education funding with bipartisan support last session. We need the revenue from sports gambling to help improve education in Maryland.

Even before COVID-19, Maryland faced a looming $4 billion budget gap to modernize our public education to meet today’s needs. We must increase teacher pay so we can recruit and retain more highly qualified teachers. Vocational and technical training provides a path to the middle class for Maryland high school students who don’t choose to go to college, and we should be offering it more widely in high schools across the state.

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And now, as COVID-19 disrupts everything in our lives, the digital divide has been laid bare. Some students have access to the basic tools of COVID learning, including computers and broadband access, and some students don’t. The digital divide is now a full education gap, either students are learning online or they aren’t. This is what our students, teachers and parents face. Legislators in both parties want to help. Let me be clear: Passing sports betting will provide immediate revenue, an estimated $37 million according to a 2017 report by Oxford Economics commissioned by the American Gaming Association, that will help Maryland students.

In the legislature, we will work quickly and deliberately to create a safe and equitable sports betting industry in Maryland that brings as much revenue to our state’s education coffers as we can while also ensuring a real role for minority-owned firms to participate. We feel the pressure of the mounting challenges of public education in Maryland and if we do not act this year, Maryland will have to wait two more years until the next election before we will see these much-needed funds. Delay only hurts our state’s public school students.

As chair of the appropriations committee in Annapolis, I can tell you that the money raised by authorizing sports betting will go toward public education. It is a funding source that was always envisioned by the Kirwan Commission to help bring our schools into the 21st Century and is a commitment shared by Democrats and Republicans alike. Sports betting will not solve all of the fiscal challenges we face in building a first-class education system in Maryland, but these funds can be a part of the solution.

Every state surrounding ours has approved sports betting, which means that their residents benefit from the tax revenue from the millions of dollars Marylanders already wager to pay for their schools and roads and health care and public safety. Meanwhile, Maryland is getting shut out.

During this year’s election, whether you choose to vote by mail, during early voting or on Election Day, we must take advantage of this opportunity to vote to bring these dollars back to Maryland right away. Our kids can’t wait; we must begin the process of funding the Kirwan recommendations now because the problems of public education in Maryland are getting more complicated each day of distance learning. Along with all of my colleagues in Annapolis, I am committed to ensuring that these dollars directly fund public education in our state.

Del. Maggie McIntosh (maggie.mcintosh@house.state.md.us) is chair of the House Appropriations Committee in the Maryland General Assembly.

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