Friday, September 26, 2008

The Maryland Slots Referendum

As election day approaches, and having already made my mind up regarding the Presidential election and most of the other top-of-the-ticket races, I figured it was time to start looking at the other matters that will appear on the ballot. In Maryland, voters will be asked to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to the Maryland Constitution to permit 15,000 slot machines to be placed in pre-determined areas for the purposes of generating revenue. The posited reason for slots in Maryland is to provide a method of saving Maryland's horse racing industry (but no slots will be at the tracks for some odd reason), provide an additional stream of revenue (by taxing slots at some 70%) and to compete economically with Delaware and West Virginia, both of which has significant slots operations at their horse tracks at Dover Downs and Charleston Races.

I am adamantly opposed to slots for the following reasons:

1. The Maryland Constitution is not a place for this kind of legislative activity. A Constitution is a document that describes the structure of government, its macro-level operational contours and the rights, responsibilities and duties of the citizenry and governmental institutions. Measures involving revenue generation (not normally something the Maryland General Assembly is squeamish about) is the duty of the General Assembly, not the citizenry.

2. The fact that the General Assembly foisted this measure off on the voters is an act of political cowardice that simply should not be tolerated. By doing this, the General Assembly is trying to have its cake and eat it too. At a time when budgets are going to be crunched by dwindling tax receipts, the General Assembly is doing its duty by either A) cutting spending (the preferred response) or B) raising taxes and thus bear the brunt of that decision or C) a combination of the two. What the General Assembly will get is if the measure passes, a big revenue stream they will spend without guilt or reason. If the measure fails then they can point to the failure of the measure as the reason for having to take such drastic budgetary cuts. What the General Assembly won't have to do is should the responsibility. As I said--cowardice.

3. I don't want the state to get addicted to the revenue stream. Stop me if you have heard this before, but the revenue is supposed to be used for education. I am all for education spending, but the reality of the matter is that the slots revenue will be thrown at education without any regard for how it will be used, where it will be used and on what programs. Furthermore, slots revenue is like everything else, it is not guaranteed and what will happen if the revenue is not what was expected? The measure is bound to create an addiciton to revenue that cannot be cured later.

4. The measure improperly interferes with business. By putting the slots only in pre-determined locations, the State dictates where the market will operate. It is one thing to ban slots outright (I don't agree with it, particularly since the state allows gambling on horse racing), but it is a far different matter to say that slots will be in such and such a location and no other place. If slots are to be allowed, slots owners should be allowed to put them in any location where they can get a permit from the local government. Adding to the matter is that if the move is designed to help the horse racing industry, why then are not slots being put at already existing tracks?

For all the Marylanders out there, I encourage you to vote against the referendum. If this state really wants slots, we should not allow the General Assembly to abdicate their duties just because they don't want to take a public stand one way or the other.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Nice comment about referendums. I agree that its a stupid way to run a government (though I disagree with your stand on the slots issue, I am a Virginia horse breeder and recognize that we are tied to Maryland's horse industry.)

You are in error about one fact. Laurel Park and Oceans Downs as two of the five locations. I believe the third is going to go on a purpose race track to be run by Penn National out in western Maryland.

robert30 said...

With Maryland voters set to decide on a contentious slots referendum this fall, the state Chamber of Commerce announced Tuesday that it was coming out in favor of the ballot measure.
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niki951 said...

The ruling, which was handed down Monday by the state's highest court, showed a majority of the seven judges agreeing with the Anne Arundel Circuit Court when it ordered the state to revise the text of the ballot to say education was the "primary" purpose of the slot proceeds. Opponents took issue with the wording, claiming voters should be made aware that some of the profits would be designated for other resources including the state lottery and racing industry.
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