The decision to put the slot machine issue in Maryland to a referendum adds a lot of interest to next year's general election. After all, there's no real presidential contest in Maryland - our electoral votes will go to the Democratic candidate, almost certainly by a significant margin. There is no Senate race this year in Maryland.
There are a few significant primary elections at the Congressional level - here in the first district and over in the fourth district where Donna Edwards is trying to unseat Al Wynn in the Democratic primary. But unless Wayne Gilchrest gets bumped off in the primary, there are not likely to be signficant congressional contests in the general election.
But, ah...the slot machine referendum gives us something to look forward to. People are passionate about this issue and it's likely to be a bitter, divisive and close campaign. I look forward to it. We've had four years of handwringing, hypocrisy, backbiting, moral grandstanding and posturing in the Maryland legislature and now we can look forward to lots more of the same all over the state as the question is put to the electorate.
Opponents of slot machines can be counted upon to inveigh against the moral bankruptcy of gambling (probably while taking a break from their church bingo games), point to the supposed regressive nature of slots and claim that they will produce a new generation of addicts, broken homes, lost jobs and general moral decay. Churches in Prince Georges County and progressives in Montgomery County will collect enormous sums of money to help defeat slots.
Supports will point to the millions of dollars already wagered by Marylanders in neighboring states, talk about how slots will somehow support open space, call it a 'voluntary tax' and a 'harmless form of entertainment' and mention repeatedly how much of the money will go to support education. The horse-racing industry and the gambling industry will raise their own enormous sums of money to promote a 'yes' vote.
The real winners will undoubtedly be the TV and radio stations, the newspapers and the sign-makers who will be happy to receive all the money that is raised to flood our airways, newspapers, streets, roads and front yards with advertisements for and against. Every political pundit, editorial commentator and blogger in the state will be working overtime to voice their considered opinions on who will win. Oh, how exciting!
In that spirit, I would like to offer my initial opinion - it will be very, very close. Aside from those who are morally opposed on the one hand and those who see their jobs and/or profits dependent on slots on the other hand, I think most Marylanders are on the fence on this one. Recent polls show that Marylanders support slots by a small margin. On the other hand, gambling has been defeated in most recent contests in other states. All I can say for sure is that the contest will be fun to watch.
[Note: the painting above is by William Hogarth - part of his 1755 series 'The Humours of an Election'. This piece is entitled: 'The Polling'. ]