Slots Referendum Passes Senate

The Baltimore Sun:

The Maryland Senate approved last night a referendum on slot machine gambling, moving the legislature one step closer to asking voters in November 2008 whether to allow up to 15,000 of the devices across the state.

Senators worked late into the night on a $1.4 billion package of tax increases, and a final vote on the tax plan was expected today.

The Senate’s 31-15 vote to approve a referendum on Gov. Martin O’Malley’s slots proposal came hours after backers fended off efforts to change the planned locations of slot parlors and to have an up-or-down vote on allowing them.

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I don’t have a problem with gaming. Were I calling the shots I’d approve table games to go along with slots. Philosophically, I think gaming encourages a much larger government and more government intervention in more areas of our lives than is useful. Ideally gaming would be used in a zero sum environment with property, sales, income, etc. taxes reduced dollar for dollar by gaming revenue. But we rarely deal with ideal circumstances. I suppose if we are going to have a huge state government then it is best that it is funded voluntarily by folks with ADHD and those who failed high school math.

What I do have a problem with is the state being involved in the process beyond the auctioning of licenses. In this case we are going to embed in our state constitution gaming at two locations which will be owned by O’Malley political donors. Ordinarily donors get useless swampland purchased at extravagant prices but it is quite a coup to get your baksheesh written into the constitution. In one of those cases not only does a major O’Malley donor get the licenses but the local government is on record as being against it. Again, it is quite a coup to make your opponent’s position literally unconstitutional.

These licenses should be auctioned to the highest bidder and sited where they will generate the most income. To date the only recommended site that makes senses is the site in downtown Baltimore. Somehow the premier racetrack, the site of the Preakness which everyone is suddenly so hot and bothered to save, is not on the list. Guess that key Ocean Downs site draws more folks.

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