The issue of legalizing slots and/or legalized gambling in the State of Maryland is a complex one, and one of great consequence to both the State’s residents, and the future of the State itself. Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich’s slots bill proposes that the State place a total of 15,500 slot machines or video poker machines in six different locations, three of which would be chosen from a pool of four Maryland racetracks.
The racetracks that would be eligible to install slots or video poker machines are Laurel Park racecourse in Laurel, Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George’s county, a track that would be built at a later date in Allegheny county, and the Preakness Stakes host Pimlico in Baltimore; In effect turning those racetracks into “racinos”. The bill goes on to stipulate that the State’s portion of the revenue be used exclusively for education. On the surface, both sides’ opinions and arguments are seemingly valid and deserve the attention of the state’s legislative bodies.
On one hand, you have those who hold the opinion that said legalization would prove beneficial to the State by providing a much-needed revenue source that would propel the State’s education system into the 21st century. Basically, that legalized gambling would bail out the State’s ailing education system. On the other hand, you have those who feel that gambling or slots, whether at racetracks or otherwise, would bring an unwelcome criminal element to Maryland and have a detrimental effect on our residents-specifically the State’s younger residents.
They basically feel that if the State legislature were to pass this piece of legislation through, that they would be promoting widespread moral decay by turning the residents of Maryland into compulsive, degenerate gamblers. I am of the opinion that the long-term benefits of legalizing slots and/or gambling outweigh the cons. One of the main arguments against the legalization of any form of gambling is that it invites a criminal element into the community.
In theory, legalized gambling is made available to the public, the public gambles, people lose their money and go broke, and as a result turn to a life of crime to support their families and/or their gambling affliction. A community’s crime rate is bound to shoot up after the installation of any tourist attraction, e. g. a racino. While these racinos would attract predominantly In-State clientele, there is something to be said for the amount of tourist traffic they would bring in.
Naturally, tourists that are vacationing in or around a gambling community typically have a larger than average amount of cash on-hand with them, which in turn makes them profitable robbery victims. If an out-of-town guest at the Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut were to be robbed at gunpoint outside of the resort, would that crime be attributed to the fact that Connecticut had legalizing gambling, or the tourism that said legalization resulted in?
Conversely, if an individual has squandered their vacation or gambling budget in the casino, are they now viewed as potential criminal offenders? Again, it is nearly impossible to conclude whether or not these types of robberies are due to the casino that is attracting the tourism, or the fact that the community itself has now become a tourist attraction? A study conducted by the University of Nevada-Reno states that “when comparing the before and after crime rates utilizing the population at risk, the data reveals few consistent trends in crime”.
In short, it cannot be proven that by merely constructing a casino or venue where any type of gambling is legal that it would create these spikes in the crime rate that those who are opposed to legalized gambling insist would occur as a result, and to believe anything otherwise would be a hasty generalization. Another benefit of legalizing slots in the State of Maryland would be the restoration of the State’s horse industry. Our tradition of horse racing in Maryland is a proud one.
According to a National Equine Impact Study conducted in 1996, Maryland was the home of 28,000 Thoroughbreds, which are used in the majority of the State’s stakes races, and 5,800 Standardbreds, which are used in harness races. The value of the animals was estimated at $680 million. The land, equipment and supplies used to house, train, and care for the animals is values at approximately $5. 2 billion. The State’s racing industry employed 38,000 individuals at the time of the study.
In nearby Delaware Park, the only thoroughbred racetrack in Delaware, slots were legalized in 1995. Since then, the track has attracted more “top-end horses” that race in for high-end purses. A good deal of these horses come directly from the State of Maryland. This is revenue that is being taken right out of our own back yard. It is not only the high-end horses that Maryland is losing. A significant number of low-end horses, or horses that race for minimal stakes, are being lost to tracks in neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
At Charles Town racetrack in West Virginia, the average purse size has more than triples since the implementation of slots there. Again, another example of more money being taken from our State and deposited into another, simply because of slots, or lack thereof. Without the Governor’s slots legislation, the future of horse racing in the State of Maryland is bleak. If Maryland ceased to be a viable market for the horse racing industry as a result of the State Legislature’s refusal to pass this bill, it would truly be a sad day for our State and our fellow residents.
One of the strongest arguments for the legalization of slots in the State of Maryland is that the State would use 100% of its share of the revenue to fund the State’s struggling education system. There is simply no refuting this argument: The legalization of slots in the State of Maryland would directly affect our State’s school system(s) in a positive manner. End of Story. It is, in my opinion, the driving force behind Governor Ehrlich’s legislation, and for good reason.
According to a recent study conducted by Thomas Hemphill for the Maryland Public Policy Institute, The State of Maryland would stand to gain an estimated $45 million dollars in the fiscal year of 2004 if the legislation had been approved. That $45 million dollars would go directly to the Maryland Education Trust Fund. That is a significant amount of money, especially considering Maryland’s record $1. 2 billion dollar budget deficit. Those funds would be used to build new schools, repair existing schools, hire new teachers and support staff, and basically upgrade the overall level of the State’s education system as a whole.
The $45 million dollar figure I mentioned above would increase to an estimated $800 million dollars by the fiscal year 2006, when Governor Ehrlich’s administration estimates total slot revenues reaching $1. 3 billion dollars. That’s a lot of new books and computers for our State’s children. As I mentioned before, the State of Maryland’s current administration is up against an all-time high budget deficit of $1. 2 billion dollars. Opponents to this administration’s slots bill claim that gaming is not the end-all, be-all solution to this current budget crisis, and they would be correct.
There has been study after study conducted on this matter, and the vast majority of them conclude that gaming is never a “magic bullet” for solving any community’s budget problems. I contend that while legalized gambling is no “magic bullet”, it is an opportunity to take a step in the right direction that we can all feel good about. In 1995, the Greater Baltimore Committee contracted Hunter Interests, Inc. to conduct a study on the economic impact of slots or casino gambling in the State of Maryland.
The study was completed in 1996, and had several positive findings as far as gaming’s affect on the State’s economy. The study stated that Maryland “is well-positioned for the gaming marketMaryland’s geography, demographics, and strength as a travel destination make it well-positioned to capture a large share of the available market. ” The Hunter study also states as a conservative estimate of the number of new jobs that slots legislation would create at over 5,000, and an aggressive estimate of over 12,000.
That is a strong number in this day in age, where the country is suffering through record unemployment rates, and jobs seem harder and harder to come by. Maryland residents gamble – This is a fact. According to a survey conducted by Harrah’s casino in 2002, and estimated 775,000 State residents gambled in casinos or racetracks that were located out of state during the previous year. That is a significant number of people who traveled out of state to gamble, and even more significant is the amount of money those residents put into other state’s economies.
This is revenue that the State simply cannot afford to ignore any longer. The opposition argues that there are bound to be increases in crime and personal bankruptcy with the implementation of slots or casino gambling in the state, but studies conducted by numerous Federal and independent bodies prove otherwise. There is little or no increase at all, and in the rare cases where an increase in crime is shown, it is impossible to determine that the increase is due to gaming itself, or the level of tourism it attracts.
The Governor’s slots bill will do nothing but good for the future of the State’s historic horse industry, an industry that dates back to the birth of our State I might add. Furthermore, the benefit to the State’s economy and education system are beyond reproach. In conclusion, It is my firm belief that while legalizing slots and/or casino gambling in the State of Maryland is not the cure for all the State’s economic and educational woes, and certainly exceeds any proposition in recent memory, with few drawbacks or tax burden placed on the State’s residents, if any at all.
It is my opinion that we owe it to ourselves, to the future generations of Marylanders, and to the current students of Maryland’s education system to implement some type of gaming legislation under the current administration, or we risk losing out on what may be the single greatest opportunity to upgrade our State that we have ever had.