My View From the Back of the Room
This post will hopefully spark a conversation that I am sure many here will disagree with, but I am here today to say that if I were in the legislature, I would vote in favor of the expansion of gambling, and I will vote for it when it reaches referendum (because that is a foregone conclusion).
When Governor O’Malley first proposed the expansion of slots, I opposed that measure and the vote, and lambasted Republican Delegates who supported it because at the time, even though they were separate bills, the passage of that slots bill in the House was directly tied to the passage of the sales tax increase. Mike Miller had said that if slots didn’t pass the House, the taxes wouldn’t pass the Senate and so at that point, a vote for the slots bill was a vote for the sales tax increase. But this year is different. Miller has already passed the income tax increase on its own and this bill is standing strictly on its own merits.
And this position is in no way an endorsement as to whether a special session should have been called, or the fairness of waiting till the last minute to release the bill, or rushing through such an important piece of legislation. It should have been done during the regular session plain and simple, it could have been done during the first special session, but to have a second special session shows the inability of the Maryland Democratic Monopoly to govern with any responsibility. However, it needs to happen now, prior to this year’s election because waiting will put any ability to get this done for two more years. Of course this is because of the short sightedness of the Democrat’s original slots bill.
And this is not to say that it is perfect. Yes, I have actually read the bill and I agree with a lot that it is doing. I don’t like the mechanism to empower the unelected and politically connected slots commission to change the tax rates, or the hybrid ownership of the slots machines themselves (this was one of the biggest flaws in the original legislation). The differing of the tax rates dependent on the distance from the sixth site makes sense to me, but this tax discount should fade out over time so that in the end all the jurisdictions have an equal stake, after the initial outlay by the existing slots parlors have been recouped in tax savings.
But while the bill may change, the overall goal of opening up table games in Maryland and opening a new location at National Harbor is one that I wholly support. Table games to me are a no brainer on the basis of competing with surrounding jurisdictions as well as freedom of choice for consumers. Legislators against this option are “Nanny Statists” that want to be able to tell you what is good for you. Also, almost every single study on gambling has shown that the lottery appeals to the poorest among us, slots to the lower middle class and table games tend to draw the money of the middle to upper class (usually because table limits are a daunting deterrent to someone parting with their funds).
In addition, opening a new location at National Harbor should have been in the original bill because it is the ONLY location in the state that would actually bring in tax dollars from a neighboring jurisdiction rather than just taking money out of Marylander’s pockets. A world class resort and casino operating on the banks of the Potomac will bring people from Washington D.C. and Virginia, and also be a destination resort for travelers nationwide. Conventions in DC will now have a nightlife attraction (which thanks to other language in the bill won’t close at 2am).
One last point though, Governor O’Malley should be ashamed of his current attitude that everybody is sick of arguing about gambling so just do it. This is the same reaction of a parent that is tired of hearing their kid beg to go to a party until finally the parent gives in… you shouldn’t give in to get it over with, or accept peace at any price. Consider this a snarky comment regarding the Governor’s public failings as a parent as noted by headlines a few years ago. In governing though, each decision should be deliberated and considered thoughtfully. O’Malley’s attitude here shows he is not a serious leader, but rather more focused on clearing the way for his next step. Governor O’Malley has not led at all during the debate and it shows in the difficulty the bill is having in the House.