Progressive Maryland blogs, including those over at Free State Politics and over at Politicker MD are filled with posts about the evils of slot machines and how slots will be easily defeated in the upcoming referendum. I don't agree.
As I understand them, the arguments against slots are that:
- Slots are just the foot in the door - gambling interests really want full casinos in Maryland;
- Gambling of any kind is immoral;
- Slots represent a regressive tax on the poor;
- Slots will create or exacerbate problems for the State as compulsive gamblers and those with low impulse control will gamble away more than they can afford;
- it's ridiculous to subsidize horse racing with slot machines, horse racing is a dying industry anyway; and
- the state shouldn't raise money from gambling, it should raise the money it needs through taxes.
Some of these arguments have merit but some are just nonsense. Let's take a look.
Slots are just a foot in the door to get casinos in Maryland
Sure, that's possible; and funding for mass transit is just a foot in the door to forcing all Marylanders out of their cars. It's possible, but not if we don't allow it. Given the huge, protracted fight over getting slots, I doubt that Marylanders are going to approve full-blown casinos the next year, not that there would be a problem with that.
Gambling of any kind is immoral
If you think gambling is immoral, then so be it. But research has shown that people are quite fickle about this. Many who are adamant about the immorality of gambling don't seem to hesitate to buy a lottery ticket or play bingo. Besides, if you think gambling is immoral, don't gamble, but don't impose your morality on me. There are those who think driving cars is immoral, or eating meat, or sex, for that matter. We can't impose every individual's moral code on the entire state.
Slots represent a regressive tax on the poor
Well, this might be true. I'm not sure. I know a fair number of people who go to Delaware or West Virginia or even Atlantic City to play the slots from time to time. They are generally middle class and older. They play the slots not because they expect to win money, but for entertainment. Frankly, I like to go bet on the ponies from time to time. I bet a few dollars here and there and have a wonderful time cheering on my nag. I never lose more than $20 - $30, but then I never expect to win either. It may be true that low-income people spend more on gambling than higher income people, I haven't seen convincing evidence. But keep in mind that most of the state's share of income from slots is targeted toward education. If there ever was a regressive tax on the poor, it's lack of education.
Slots are going to exacerbate problem gambling in the state.
Well, this is probably true. Some of the projected income from slots is targeted toward dealing with this problem. But the fact is that everything has unwelcome side effects. Bad television stunts the growth of the mind and causes people to buy things they don't need, rock concerts create traffic jams and may promote drug use, newspapers lead to deforestation and generate waste. We don't ban these things because of the side effects, instead we try to mitigate the side effects and enjoy our bad TV, rock concerts and newspapers.
It's ridiculous to subsidize horse racing
I agree. I've written about this before. If it were possible to vote for slots without the horse racing, I'd welcome it. But that's not the situation we find ourselves in. If we were to only accept legislation that is perfect, there would be none.
The state shouldn't raise money from gambling, it should raise the money it needs through taxes.
An interesting argument and, in a perfect world, a winning argument. In a perfect world we would all see the benefit of the services the government provides us, the government would provide those services efficiently and effectively at all times and without showing favor to one group or another and we would gladly pay our taxes to support those services. In this world, however, taxes are anathema to most. The chances of getting an additional $500 million of taxes passed in Maryland are nil. So we're faced with either approving slots or foregoing the money (or, more to the point, giving to to Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia). I'll go with the slots.
[Note, the photo, taken between 1890 and 1900, is of the public garden and casino in Vienna, Austro-Hungary and was included in a book 'Views of the Austro-Hungarian Empire' published by the Detroit Publishing Company in 1905]