As my lead into yesterday’s post on Question 1, I noted that I hadn’t discussed the early voting portion of the ballot much. On the other hand, two posts of mine have discussed the slots amendment in some depth as part of my Wicomico County Republican Club meeting coverage. So for faithful readers this is a repeat of sorts, but this gives me an opportunity to place all of my arguments in one post.
Over the last half-decade, several attempts to legalize video slot machines for the purposes of raising money for the state have been made in the General Assembly, but none passed under Governor Ehrlich. Partisan Democrats were determined not to give Ehrlich credit for any legislative accomplishment, thus the bills would die prior to adoption. But things changed once the party affiliation switched at Government House and this proposal to place slots on the ballot as a Constitutional Amendment passed with mostly Democrat support. Instead of the General Assembly doing the job they were elected to do, they punted their responsibility to the voters in an effort to alter Maryland’s Constitution.
The biggest weakness in this approach is its inflexibility. Locations and the number of allowed machines are set in stone unless the General Assembly passes the legislation to send changes back to the voters. If another region besides the five already selected by the state would want to have slots, or the state seeks an increase from the 15,000 machines proposed, they have to return to the voters to amend the Constitution and hope for passage.
On the other hand, the purported 48.5% benefit to education for the proceeds from slots isn’t set and can be changed at any time by the General Assembly. (Never mind that the Education Trust Fund is always subject to change as well.) Other proportions go as follows: 33% to video slot licensees, 7% to horse racing purses, 5.5% to local impact grants, 2.5% to racetrack facilities, 2% to the Maryland Lottery to cover costs, and 1.5% to the Small, Minority, and Women-Owned Businesses Account. Any of those can change at any time.
It was also revealed by the state that, not only would full financial benefits to the state not arrive until FY2013, but expected revenue from video slots would still not be enough to cover the expected shortfalls in those budget years afterward. Because gambling tends to be a regressive form of taxation, the costs to the state in additional aid for those who can’t help but spend their earnings feeding the one-armed bandits will certainly deduct somewhat from the revenues. Like most other sin taxes, the results will probably fall short of expectations.
If Maryland is going to further its foray into gambling beyond what it already does with horse racing and the various facets of the Maryland Lottery, it shouldn’t be as restrictive as this Constitutional Amendment promises to be. Why not full-fledged casinos featuring sports betting? In this climate, slots are hardly unique and other states with established points of access to wagering are already sweetening their pots to continue drawing Maryland bettors across their state lines.
Let’s make the General Assembly do their job, and perhaps they’ll do it better if they get the message that the voters think our Constitution shouldn’t be trivialized in this manner. Vote NO on Question 2.