No Dice!

On August 12, Governor Glendening announced – firmly – that no bill authorizing slot machines or casinos in Maryland will pass into law under his watch.1 Nonetheless, given the – how shall one say this? – pliancy of various Maryland politicians on this issue, it bears remembering that a day is an age in politics and that there are many days left until the 1997 legislative session. It should also be noted that if Maryland stands firm against gambling, the state will be part of a very much dwindling group. Legalized gambling has enjoyed unprecedented success in the United States in recent years. Some hail gambling as America’s new pastime, and not without reason. In 1993, Americans made more trips to casinos than they did to major league baseball games.2 Currently, 48 of the 50 states allow one or more forms of legalized gambling. (The exceptions are Utah and Hawaii.)3

During the 1995 session of the Maryland General Assembly, the Joint Executive/Legislative Task Force on Commercial Gaming Activities in Maryland was created. After public hearings throughout the state, the group unanimously recommended against legalizing casino gambling in Maryland or allowing slot machines at race tracks or off-track betting facilities (OTBs). However, these recommendations did not discourage some legislators and advocates from proposing legislation to permit up to 11,500 slot machines at Maryland tracks and OTBs during the 1996 session. These plans appear now to have been tabled. All the same, it is critical for state leaders to evaluate what has happened around the country before we take any any further steps toward expanding into fast-paced and high-stakes gambling here, a move that might well be be irreversible.

First, it is clear that government endorsement of new games increases the number of citizens who gamble.4 Not surprisingly, the past few years’ surge in gambling correlates directly with the growth in gambling opportunities, as chronicled by researcher Robert Goodman.5 State and local governments have seized upon legalized gambling as a revenue-generating gold mine, a voluntary tax willingly paid by citizens enamored at the thought of quick riches. In 1994, more than 1,600 gambling-related bills were considered by state legislatures across the country.6

While government has historically been a gambling regulator, now many state governments are becoming gambling promoters, pouring significant resources into marketing to induce citizens to play. More than $300 million dollars is spent by states annually in lottery advertisements.7 Is this a proper function for governments?

Gambling proponents in government frequently justify their stance by noting that a significant portion of the proceeds is earmarked for education, public works projects and other worthwhile undertakings to benefit communities. But they fail to mention the unreliability of gambling as a revenue source – and that each new gambling enterprise hurts the revenue potential of the one preceding it. Additionally, a state budget built on an increasingly higher percentage of income from gambling reduces the will of legislators to fulfill their primary responsibility: implementing sensible state tax and spending policies. In short, gambling revenue allows continued big government.

More gambling leads to a climate where crime increases.8 Atlantic City introduced casinos in 1978. From 1977-1981, index crime in that city rose by 286.8 percent,9 next to a New Jersey overall increase of 122.0 percent.10 (See figure 1.) We should also be concerned that, as the national debate on welfare policy intensifies, many state governments are now encouraging lower-income individuals to gamble money needed for necessities, either at casinos or even through the lottery. Lower-income individuals spend a higher percentage of their income on all gambling forms, money that is required for the basic necessities of life.11

Boosters of casino and other forms of gambling never address the economic costs of their product. Rather than providing a tonic to neighboring businesses, gambling operations have proven to be a drain on most aspects of the local economy. “Money for gambling is usually diverted from people’s discretionary expenditures. Not only are dollars diverted from other products and services, but government often also loses sales tax which would have been spent on these products and services,” says Goodman.12

While in the short term some may benefit from the introduction of gambling (e.g., the construction sector), the casino industry never points out that long-term gambling-related jobs tend to be low-paying. And there is of course no guarantee that casino operations will employ locals. For example, Mississippi’s Tunica County – for years the poorest county in the whole of America – introduced casino gambling in 1992. At the time, its unemployment rate was 15.1 percent. This time last year, its unemployment still sat at 13.6 percent, twice the Mississippi average and the fourth-highest county rate in the state.13 Then there is the matter of already established businesses suffering as the result new gambling options, as noted by Ron Dworkin in his review of Goodman’s work in this issue of Calvert News.

Two other troubling impacts will surely result if casinos or for-profit slot machines are allowed in Maryland (not-for-profit slot machines are already allowed on the Eastern Shore). A large and expensive regulatory structure will be created. Make no mistake about it. And as our state officials find themselves unable to resist the newest innovations in gambling, existing holders of licenses will petition their legislature to ease regulation of their enterprises.

While I concede that governments cannot and should not strip individuals of the right to make moral decisions, I think it is also fair to argue that the promotion of what is generally acknowledged to be undesirable outcome – losing one’s money – should not be trumpeted by government. As one Maryland resident wrote to me, “I do not oppose gambling, but I do disagree with the state promoting it. I am tired of working and paying for someone else’s pleasure (e.g., gambling, illegitimate children, substance abuse, crime, etc.).”

Perhaps one of the most far-reaching, though somewhat intangible, effects of gambling is its inherent undermining of the work ethic. Writer and social commentator George F. Will observes, “Aggressive government marketing of gambling gives a legitimizing imprimatur to the pursuit of wealth without work. Gambling is debased speculation, a craving for sudden wealth unconnected with investment that might make society more productive. Gambling fever reflects and exacerbates what has been called the ‘fatalism’ of the multitude. The more people believe in the importance of luck, chance, randomness, and fate, the less they believe in the importance of stern virtues such as industriousness, thrift, deferral of gratification, diligence, and studiousness.”14

Or, as Dan Cordtz, managing editor of Financial World magazine, remarks: “It is strikingly ironic that an activity that is frequently sold as a boon to education, teaches youngsters that the best way to get rich is not to study and work hard, but to hit the lottery.”15

It remains to be seen what January 1997 holds for both legislators and casino lobbyists. No doubt about it, the governor’s recent remarks have created an difficult task for advocates. But an impossible one? Stay tuned for what may still be a “jackpot” of an issue in 1997.

Senator McCabe, a Republican, represents district 14, Howard and Montgomery County. He is the co-founder of Marylanders Against Casinos (MAC).

End Notes
[Top] 1. Thomas W. Waldron, “Glendening Says No Slots as Long as He’s Governor,” (Baltimore) Sun, August 13, 1996, p. 1A.

[Top] 2. James Popkin, “America’s Gambling Craze,” U.S. News & World Report, March 14, 1994, pp. 42-43, at 46.

[Top] 3. Ronald A. Reno, “You Bet Your Life: The Dangerous Repercussions of America’s Gambling Addiction,” Focus on the Family Matter of Facts Report, February 1996, p. 1.

[Top] 4. U.S. Commission on the Review of the National Policy Toward Gambling, Gambling in America (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1976).

[Top] 5. Robert Goodman, Legalized Gambling as a Strategy for Economic Development (Northampton, Mass.: United States Gambling Study, 1994).

[Top] 6. Center for State Policy Research (CSPR), 1994 Gaming Issues Report: An Industry Matures (Washington, D.C.: CSPR , 1994).

[Top] 7. Goodman, Legalized Gambling, p. 51.

[Top] 8. Reno, “You Bet Your Life,” pp. 5-9.

[Top] 9. “Index crime” is serious violent or property crime: murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny-theft and vehicle theft.

[Top] 10. Ovid Demaris, The Boardwalk Jungle (New York, N.Y.: Bantam Books, 1986), p. 191, table 22.

[Top] 11. Goodman, Legalized Gambling.

[Top] 12. Goodman, Legalized Gambling.

[Top] 13. Benjamin and Christina Schwarz, “Mississippi Monte Carlo,” Atlantic Monthly, January 1996, pp. 67- 82, at 74.

[Top] 14.George F. Will, “In The Grip of Gambling,” Newsweek, May 8, 1989, p. 78.

[Top] 15. Dan Cordtz, “Betting the Country,” Financial World, February 20, 1990, p. 23.

Posted in: Gambling, News Series