As predicted by most insiders, the General Assembly passed the proposed slots referendum, which calls for about 15,000 one-arm bandits spread out over five facilities – one each in Baltimore City and Allegany, Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester counties. Maryland voters will now decide the issue because an inner circle of cowards unwilling to make the tough decision leads the state’s legislature. What a disgrace. When the referendum idea was proposed as a possible piece of legislation earlier this fall, I suggested here it would pass easily thanks largely to the huge voting blocks in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. That may still be the case, but it’s worth pointing out recent referendums on slots in other states have failed. Although West Virginia and Pennsylvania passed slots in different years, referendums failed in five of six states weighing gambling-related initiatives in 2006. In Maryland, the outcome is unknown, but what is clear is millions of dollars will be spent on both sides of the debate with scare tactics and distortion of the facts used often along the way. Marylanders should get used to hearing these kinds of competing phrases. From pro-slots advocates: Maryland is losing millions of dollars to neighboring states each year because it does not have slots. From the anti-slots side: Approving slots will increase crime and only make matters worse for the poor. The rhetoric machines, intended to deceive and confuse, will be working hard.
Along those lines, the vote for the constitutional amendment to put slots on the 2008 ballot passed by the narrowest of margins. The number of votes needed in the House of Delegates to place the slots referendum on the ballot was 85. The vote was 86-52. Depending upon where you stand on the matter, you are either thrilled or chagrined at the actions of Delegates Norman Conway, Page Elmore and Jim Mathias. Conway and Elmore voted for the referendum. Of course, that means if those two went the other way, the measure would have failed. Mathias, who for years was a vocal opponent to slots while mayor of Ocean City, maintained his ground, opposing the referendum because it included Ocean Downs. For what it’s worth, Senator Lowell Stoltzfus adamantly opposed the measure.
One more thing on slots: This issue is going to be decided by a huge number of Maryland voters. Traditionally, presidential general elections (my money is on Clinton vs. Giuliani) see impressive turnouts. Add to that tradition the fact there’s a controversial referendum and the chances are excellent for a solid voter turnout. Past history shows turnout exceeds 55 percent in Maryland in presidential general elections and is 60-plus percent in Worcester County.
Citizens and the media often give the stink eye to officials attending conventions outside the area. Nonetheless, nearly all governments send officials to destinations far away for so-called “educational” types of conference. A group of Ocean City officials annually travel to the National Hurricane Conference, which has been held in Florida and Louisiana in the past, and the County Commissioners have traveled to National Association of Counties conventions in far away destinations as well. It’s the cost of doing business, some say, but it can be agreed upon by all the expenses associated with these trips are anything but nominal. An article in The Herald-Mail on Sunday examined the city of Hagerstown’s expenses related to last summer’s Maryland Municipal League convention in Ocean City. The paper found the city spent $8,847 to send four elected officials and two staffers to the resort for the conference. Of that amount, $2,978 was spent for three council members rooms including an average $452 per night for a councilwoman to stay at the Hilton for three nights. Questions in the article pertain directly to the necessity of having the conference in Ocean City in the height of summer when prices are at their peak. For the record, next year’s National Hurricane Conference, popular among city elected and appointed officials, will be held in early April in Orlando, Fla.