- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

ANNAPOLIS | A three-judge panel ruled Wednesday that a proposed ballot question on slot machines is misleading, but the judges said adding a single word to the question would clear up the problem.

Slots opponents said the ruling did not go far enough. They plan to appeal to the state’s highest court.

The ballot question indicates that slots would be used “for the purpose of raising revenue for education.” In fact, slots revenue would go to a variety of recipients, including slots operators, the horse racing industry and the state lottery agency.

The judges ordered that the state amend the ballot language by inserting the word “primary,” so that it says slots would be used “for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education.”

Irwin Kramer, an attorney for slots opponents, said he’s gratified “that the court confirmed the deceptive and misleading nature of the proposed ballot question.” But he says the ballot question still presents voters with “a bait-and-switch scheme” because it’s not clear about where revenue will go.

Mr. Kramer had earlier testified that the proposed ballot question was intentionally misleading and amounts to “a legislative bait-and-switch.”

“When you pull a lever on a slot machine, you never know what you’re going to get,” Irwin R. Kramer, an attorney for slots opponents, told the judges. “But a ballot box should work differently.”

Assistant Attorney General Austin C. Schlick argued that the ballot language was appropriate because the proposed constitutional amendment to legalize slots only specifies that the revenue will go toward education.

“The amendment does not establish any purpose other than education for this funding,” Mr. Schlick said.

Attorneys on both sides said after the hearing that no matter how the judges ruled, an appeal to the state’s highest court is likely.

The referendum would authorize up to 15,000 slot machines at five locations. A poll released this week by Annapolis-based Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies showed that 49 percent of likely voters indicated they would support the referendum, while 43 percent said they opposed it. Eight percent were undecided. In January, respondents to a Gonzales poll supported slots by a wider margin, 54 percent to 38 percent.

Outrage over the ballot language has energized slots opponents. Secretary of State John P. McDonough, who wrote the ballot question, is a former racing industry lobbyist, which has further outraged the anti-slots contingent.

Lawmakers decided to punt the slots issue to voters during a special session last fall during which they also approved $1.4 billion in tax increases to address looming budget deficits. Efforts to authorize slots without a constitutional amendment had failed several years running.

But the details on who gets the money from slots were left to a different piece of legislation that also passed during the special session. That bill specifies that 48.5 percent of slots revenue would go to education, while slot machine operators would get 33 percent. Another 7 percent would go to horse racing purses; 2.5 percent would be set aside for horse racing track renewal; 5.5 percent would go to local governments; 2 percent would go to lottery administrative costs; and 1.5 percent would be allocated to a fund for minority and women-owned businesses.

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