Why slots won’t work

My esteemed RedMaryland colleague Streiff noted today that Governor O’Malley finally unleashed an expected piece of his budget-gap closing arsenal: slots. And yes, this proposal does come from the same governor who called slots a “gambling gimmick” so long ago. As much as I support the of legalizing slots, (even if O’Malley’s idea of only having only state-owned machines is a little weird) this plan is too little too late.

You’re gonna want to see what I suggest below the fold…

One of the best reasons that Maryland could have introduced slots years ago was the competitive environment in which legalized gambling was available at the time. Charles Town, Dover Downs, and Delaware Park were the only games in town for legalized slot action. Now, with the opening of slot parlors in Pennsylvania, and the expansion of gambling operations at the West Virginia and Delaware tax, there are even more opportunities for Maryland bettors to vote with their feet and take their expendable income to Pennsylvania. Furthermore, the expansion of slot gambling in those states (particularly Pennsylvania) makes Maryland slot machine opportunities less appealing really only to Maryland gamblers and those in D.C. or Northern Virginia.

The General Assembly’s reticence to support slot machine gambling in the past means that we pretty much missed the boat as far as sustainable income from slots parlors. The law of diminishing returns tells us that the expansion of gambling to include legalized slot machines is likely to merely split an already existing market for slot machine gambling. Yes, Maryland machines will take revenue from Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia parlors, but it also means that Maryland machines won’t generate nearly as much income as everybody thinks they will.

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I strongly support the idea of raising additional revenue through the expansion of legalized gambling in Maryland. However, there is no earthly way that slot machines alone are going to cut it. Slot machines may be able to save horse racing, but they are not the be all and end all of the budget debate.

If Maryland is going to be serious about raising revenue through the expansion of legalized gambling, there is really only one way to make that work. An idea that I support, but one that would not be warmly received by a lot of people.

The only answer is through the legalization of full casino gambling. I’m talking about table games: blackjack, poker, roulette, etc. That is the only way that Maryland can stand above the surrounding crowd in order to raise revenue through gambling expansion. It is a surefire way to take long-distance business away from the Atlantic City tables, and a surefire way to draw certain gamblers past the Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia slots parlors and into Maryland casinos. And you can only imagine the potential revenue available through the location of a full casino near Washington to draw in the national and international travelers who came through year-round.

Is full table gaming the solution to our budget problems? Heavens no. But it beats a slots only solution if the objective is revenue enhancement.


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