- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Never say never. Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Republican, is now resorting to scare tactics over his main campaign issue. It's now or never for his slot-machine initiative, he says.
State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat, would rather roll the dice and gamble that the numbers will line up right after Maryland opens the casino doors to the greedy gold rush.
Should this wishful thinking be dubbed "faith-based" politics? House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a Democrat and fierce opponent of slot machines at the state's racetracks, issued a call for caution, and the House Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously to study the sloppy slots shakedown for a year. His is the more prudent practice.
A moratorium is in order. Mr. Erhlich's hasty, late-night proposal raises a lot of questions. The figures are fickle. The beneficiaries are bogus. The uncertain liabilities linger.
Track owners, not school students, would reap a windfall as this proposal now stands. Annually, track owners would get 43.59 percent of the take, or $665 million; education would get 42.11 percent, or $642 million. That is a total flip-flop from the governor's original plan, which was an easier sell. The governor's missteps on the premier initiative of his fledgling administration expose his inexperience at best, his questionable sincerity at worst.
Why, for example, if slots are to be the budget-shortfall savior, would the governor agree to a smaller sliver of the silk purse, when by his own estimates the state faces a huge deficit? Why would he agree to forgo the initial licensing fees that could stave off tax increases? Does the state of Maryland wish to become the East Coast Las Vegas? In any case, will a slot-dependent Free State eventually need to join Gamblers Anonymous?
Haste makes waste. The governor must take the time to present a more careful and thoughtful plan to the state legislature and residents. Prince George's County community activist Radamase Cabrera is also right to suggest that everyone take a breather for at least a year and come up with a plan that presents better odds. "It's not clear that this done deal is a good deal," he said.
Money is not the only commodity at stake. What impact will placing more than 10,000 slot machines have on the quality of life in communities around the racetracks? How will casinos color their landscapes? Will this proposal bring economic boon to the masses of Maryland's minorities or will it boost only a few minority millionaires? Will it bring more jobs and better transportation and schools, or create congestion and crime?
Under the governor's plan, these communities only get 3.8 percent or $55 million; gambling-addiction programs get a paltry 0.07 percent or $1.1 million. Treasured track owners argued that they needed more of the proceeds to rebuild and construct parking decks, gaming halls and restaurants. No mention has been made or demanded of them for infrastructure upgrades in those affected communities.
Maryland's Democratic lawmakers, particularly the Legislative Black Caucus, have done a disservice to their critical constituent base by not scrutinizing the details sooner as the Republican governor pushes through the slots proposals at this 11th hour.
If it were not for the black ministers, who have teamed up with Mr. Busch to oppose the gaming measures on moral grounds, you would think that black Marylanders welcome the video slots with open arms. Mr. Cabrera notes the inescapable fact that the governor proposes to place 3,500 slot machines each at Pimlico in Baltimore, Laurel in Anne Arundel County and Rosecroft in Oxon Hill.
Yet, Mr. Cabrera continues, the governor's proposals call for only 1,000 slots in a track to be built in Cumberland, an economically depressed area of mainly whites.
The governor issued assurances to white residents surrounding the Timonium fairgrounds in Baltimore County that he would not allow slots there against their opposition.
Why these geographic disparities? A yearlong study is the correct action. It is needed to determine the cause of this and other discrepancies and disagreements raised by the sloppy slots shakedown.
Now or never? Not hardly.

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