Why I’m voting NO on Maryland’s slots referendum
With Maryland certain to cast its 10 electoral votes for Barack Obama in tomorrow’s presidential election, the most controversial state-wide ballot question is the Constitutional amendment that would legalize slot machines at five locations in the state. The purpose of the measure is to raise tax revenue for education, but, after a lot of thought, I am going to vote no on the amendment and urge my fellow Marylanders to do likewise.
The problems with gambling are well known: gambling addiction, increased alcoholism and bankruptcy, and the potential for increased crime and family problems. Treatment and response to these issues could cost $228 million to $628 million annually, absorbing some of the revenue the state would gain through legalizing slots. Liberals and those interested in social issues should note that these challenges all fall most heavily on the poor, both because they can least afford to gamble and because these taxes are very regressive, they take a much larger percentage of a poor gambler’s income than of a rich one’s—and this is after the General Assembly just increased the regressive sales tax by 20%. There are good reasons why our state Comptroller, Peter Franchot, opposes the measure.
Just as importantly, the many promises of the pro-slots side are unlikely to be fulfilled. The revenue estimates were made before the current economic downturn and are therefore too high. Additionally, some of those estimates assume that 100% of the money that Marylanders currently spend on slots in neighboring states will be spent in-state if the measure passes, clearly an unreasonable assumption. The money won’t be staying here in the Seventh State; the biggest beneficiaries of slots will be wealthy, out of state license holders and horse breeders, not our school children and local business owners. Many stores and restaurants near the gambling locations will suffer, as just about every dollar stuck in a slot machine is a dollar that would have been spent elsewhere. And the five locations that slots would be limited to under the current measure are not particularly good spots for such devices; it’s quite possible that this amendment is only allowing slots their foot in the door before a future measure will be needed to fix this one and make slots even more profitable.
Fiscal conservatives may want to note that this measure doesn’t just raise an existing tax, or create a new tax; it creates an entirely new industry—that brings with it all sorts of economic and social problems—just so the state can tax it. And, since money is the most fungible of all resources, in the future this will probably result in a net increase in state spending, since general revenue dollars that otherwise would have been needed for schools will then be free to be spent elsewhere. Conservatives like me should also be concerned about subsidizing the horse racing industry. If I were going to give welfare to an industry, it certainly wouldn’t be one that is non-vital and essentially a form of entertainment.
The Washington Post joins me in urging Marylanders to oppose slots. You can read their editorial here, and they provide additional information about the issue here. See also what the non-aligned Ballotpedia has to report about the measure.
The revenue raised will likely be much lower than advertised, and less than half the profits would go to education in any event. Besides, it’s immoral to balance the state budget on the backs of the poor with a regressive tax like this. The biggest gainers if we amend our Constitution for this will be already rich out of state casino owners who won’t have to worry about the problems we’re creating for ourselves here. Maryland did well to get rid of slots in 1968; let’s not bring them back in 2008. Vote NO on Question 2.