- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2008


People on both sides of Maryland’s slot machine debate sparred yesterday over how much money the state stands to gain if voters decide to legalize slots in a November referendum.

Scott Arceneaux, a senior adviser to Marylanders United to Stop Slots, said it’s impossible to know how much money an expansion of gambling will raise for state coffers, because gambling revenue would be strongly affected by overall economic trends. Mr. Arceneaux also said he doesn’t think it’s a good idea for the state to become dependent an uncertain revenue stream.

“We can throw out a lot of projections — a lot of figures — but the bottom line is we don’t know,” he said during a panel discussion organized by the Associated Press for a Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association conference in Ellicott City, Md.

Frederick Puddester, who was appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, to head a pro-slots group, cited estimates by nonpartisan state budget analysts that slots would raise more than $660 million a year once slots parlors become operational.

Mr. Puddester, who was the state’s budget secretary in former Gov. Parris Glendening’s administration, said slots could be the best way to address a lingering state budget shortfall. Lawmakers approved $1.4 billion in tax increases during a special General Assembly session in the fall, but projected budget deficits will remain unless voters approve the slots referendum, he said.

“We have $700 million to make up,” Mr. Puddester said. “We have this referendum, which will generate that kind of money, or we can increase taxes on people, on citizens, and the businesses or we can cut critical programs.”

Mr. Arceneaux dismissed the claim, describing it as “political scare tactics 101.”

Mr. Puddester, who heads a group called For Maryland, For Our Future, called Maryland’s slots plan “the most tax-friendly proposal that is out there for slot machines.”

“A little more than 55 percent of the revenue from the slot machines will come to state and local governments,” he said.

“In places like Delaware and West Virginia, that number is closer to a third,” he said.

Some critics of the slots proposal question whether the state’s share of the revenue will leave enough for Maryland parlor operators to compete with neighboring states, where profits are higher.

Mr. Puddester said whoever ends up with any of the state’s five slot machine licenses won’t end up backing out for a lack of revenue.

Lawmakers voted during the special session to seek a constitutional amendment to legalize slot machine gambling. If voters approve, up to 15,000 machines would be allowed at five slots parlors, including one location each in Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester counties, one in Baltimore city and one on state property at the Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort near Cumberland.

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