- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 21, 2008

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, rallied a state conference of the Maryland NAACP Saturday against a November ballot measure on legalized slot machines.

“Slot machines are not a solution to anything; they are part of the problem,” Mr. Franchot told about two dozen county representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Mr. Franchot is one of the staunchest opponents of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposal to allow 15,000 slot terminals at four locations across the state. Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, says the measure will help ease the state’s budget problems and boost funds for education. The state is facing an estimated $432 million budget shortfall this year and more than twice that next year. Slots are expected to generate about $600 million a year in state revenue.

“The poor and minorities will disproportionately suffer the negative consequences of slots, and gambling executives will get rich on the backs of Maryland families who can least afford it,” the Maryland NAACP said in a statement.

“Revenue from slot machines are the wrong direction and will not fix the deficit. The deficit will be there whether we put in slot machines or not,” Mr. Franchot said. Excessive government spending is the underlying problem, he said.

Mr. Franchot’s comments came a day after Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, also a Democrat, reversed his long-standing opposition to state-run gambling by “reluctantly” endorsing the measure.

“By lack of other viable options, the certain impact of cuts on the poorest and more vulnerable throughout the state, and the need for additional resources … reluctantly, I will cast my vote for the ballot measure,” Mr. Leggett said in a statement Friday.

Mr. Franchot charged that Mr. Leggett had been the victim of bullying and pandering by slots proponents.

“It’s a very sad decision, the wrong decision … but sometimes when good people succumb, it’s not because of malice but because they just can’t stand the pressure,” he said. The opposition movement had been under attack by “a relentless and predatory gambling industry,” he said.

Mr. Franchot scoffed at the ballot question’s wording, which states that slots would be used “for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education.”

“Not one dime will go into new education money from slots … whatever is gained into the education fund will be pulled out from the other side,” said Mr. Franchot, citing similar problems with lottery revenues. He also claimed that for every dollar the state makes from the slots, three more will be spent to combat “addiction, crime, domestic abuse and other ills that flows from gambling.”

Several NAACP members who attended the conference cited the negative impact gambling has had on low-income communities throughout the state.

“There is a very long history of increasing crime and addiction when we see an increase in gambling,” said June White Dillard, president of the Prince George’s County chapter of the NAACP.

“What kind of example do we set if we say in a fiscal problem, go gamble it away?” said Henry Hailstock, president of the Montgomery County branch.

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