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October 19, 2008

The Baltimore Sun: For slots, after being against them

Opponents of slot machine gambling were chagrined to pick up today's Baltimore Sun and find that the paper's editorial board reversed itself after years of opposing gambling.

Critics charged the newspaper of "buckling to corporate pressure and selling out Maryland."

"(I)t appears the editorial decisions are being made by corporate suits in Illinois, the Tribune Company, and not by the independent editorial board here in Maryland," said Scott Arceneaux, senior adviser to Marylanders United to Stop Slots, a committee urging a "no" vote on Question 2.

Slots critics had gotten wind of the pro-slots editorial, and were prepared with examples of past editorials that had blasted an expansion of gambling.

In 1999, the paper called slots "an invitation to corruption and addiction," and a 2002 editorial said "you just can't gamble your way to fiscal health." In 2004, the paper called slot machines "a robbing of Peter to pay Paul that would disproportionately cannibalize and cut jobs at nearby restaurants and retailers."

Baltimore Sun publisher Timothy Ryan and members of the editorial board would not discuss last week how the decision came about. They said the endorsement, which called the current fiscal crisis "extraordinary times," would speak for itself.

"Without new revenue, Marylanders face truly unacceptable choices," the editorial said. "Public education and health care for the disadvantaged represent the majority of state spending and therefore cannot be held harmless in this cash-strapped environment. Both will soon suffer as budget cuts grow deeper and deeper. The prospect of higher taxes is just as ruinous an alternative if in raising taxes the government winds up dampening prospects for economic recovery."

Opponents of slots were more pleased with the decision by the editorial board of The Washington Post, which also issued its stance on Question 2 on Sunday.

"Before Maryland's faltering economy became the referendum's selling point, slots supporters said that the machines were needed to save the state's horse-racing industry. One-sixth of slots revenue would sweeten race purses, an unnecessary subsidy that would mostly benefit out-of-state owners and Maryland's wealthiest breeders," the Post's editorialists said. "Why should the state spend its dwindling dollars to bolster wealthy breeders rather than, say, Chesapeake Bay watermen? Maryland had the good sense to rid itself of the machines 40 years ago, and voters should continue to resist the glow of slot machines and the false promise of pain-free revenue they represent."

So add the Baltimore Sun editorial board to the list of those – like House Speaker Mike Busch – who were against slots before they were for it.

Posted by David Nitkin at 5:18 PM | | Comments (14)


That comment about Mike Busch is garbage. This campaign has been going on for a year now. Show me one quote where Mike Busch suggested that anyone should vote for Question 2.


Speaker Busch does not seem to be active in the ballot campaigns either for or against slots.

But he was the chief roadblock against passage of a slots bill during the Ehrlich administration. And the current plan passed his chamber when a Democratic governor -- O'Malley -- argued it was needed as part of a long-term budget balancing strategy. It's fair to point out that Busch's position on slots has changed.

Goodness Aaron, See the light. This referendum and slots bill (HB 4) is your man's (Speaker Busch) bill. Does backing the wrong horse ring a bell? He voted for it didn't he? Speaker Busch has been pro-gambling for years. He was just obstinate and smart enough to get it written and passed his way. You anti-slots folks must feel pretty stupid because he has suckered you guys for years. I have not seen him speaking out against slots or gambling...I wonder why?


Why must your side of this debate constantly demean us all by slandering anyone (including the editorial board of the Baltimore Sun!) who deigns to be in favor of this highly limited initiative to avoid raising taxes and/or cutting further vital state programs in Maryland? The accusation by Scott Arceneaux that somehow the Sun's esteemed editorial page has been highjacked by "corporate suits in Illinois" just because they don't agree with your position is highly offensive, and more than mildly pathetic. Please, feel free to argue the merits of your case (or might it be that the merits of your case are not compelling enough given you constantly feel the need to launch personal attacks?), but these scurrilous attacks are truly beneath us all.

It is absurd to think that siphoning money from the pockets of marginal citizens, could repair the mis-managed finances of the basically prosperous state of MD. Slot-casino gambling is not always a harmless recreation. A large proportion of casino revenues are from poor folks, in desperate financial shape. They fantasize about striking it rich, only to sink deeper in despair.

It leads to rapid downfall of a significant percentage of players. We have talked with many elderly people whose friends have gone out for some recreation, and finally lost two or three hundred-thousand dollars, sometimes an entire retirement nest egg, leaving them destitute.

Three pro-gambling responses we get are: 1) That's just anecdotal, not of much significance. 2) They are responsible adults, no one forced them to go into that casino, it's their own fault, so I could care less. 3) You can't stop people from gambling, that's a basic freedom.

At the least, we must say that state-sponsored slots gambling is putting a super-efficient, high-tech stumbling block in front of the folks least competent to confront it. What an uneven contest! It says we officially seek to "scam your neighbor" rather than "love your neighbor as yourself". Somehow, that has a familiar ring.


Dave Thompson, Elkton

Will Maryland's government come to the rescue of gamblers who wagered money they couldn't afford in the same way the federal government is trying to come to the rescue of homeowners who agreed to mortgages they couldn't afford?

So are you implying that we lock the elderly in their houses, Dave? I don't believe that is entirely legal. Maybe set up border crossing agents to stop them before they hit PA, DE or WV slots facilities? I'm glad that you have scientifically tracked down "many" elderly people who have "finally lost two ot three hundred thousand dollars", this is scientific exploration at its finest. Please, stop the pain, your "analysis" of this issue is ridiculous. Are you actually a shill for the pro slots side? Let's please stop the insanity and pass the obvious slots initiative...and keep key MD state programs from being cut and taxes from being raised in the process.

Speaker Busch has consistently supported a referendum for slots, both in the Ehrlich and O'Malley Administration, while consistently saying slots are not the best way to resolve the State's financial problems. But the issue is not some snide remark about the Speaker, but are slots the answer to Maryland's problems? and obviously they are not as shown by the UMBC Maryland INstitute for Policy Analysis & Research paper "An Analysis of the impact of introducting video lottery terminals in Maryland." I urge everyone to read it. If the pro slots groups believe slots are the answer, why not an up-to-date analysis on slots reflecting today's economy rather than an outdated 2007 study - the answer is simple, those rosy numbers have turned negative. Today Foxwood Casinos reported revenue down almost 16% and Mohegan Sun down 13.3%. Slots in Maryland will not produce the numbers that are projected by the advocates. Don't buy a pig in a poke!!

Even if the numbers come in 10-15% below 2007 projections, that will be a whole lot better than 100% of ZERO. How do you propose we fund our deficit without the money that will come from not buying a pig in a poke as you so deftly put it? Just trying to understand your logic that a slightly lower potential take by the state makes slots a bad idea now. Applying that same logic, should we also do away with the sales tax, property tax etc...since surely the state's take will be down from past projections given the state of the economy and the real estate market. Come now, real analysis please, enough of this type of shot in the dark stuff that tries so deperately to make a point where there is none. This limited slots plan simply makes sense for Maryland - what doesn't make sense are these silly arguments against slots.

No, mrose, we shouldn't lock old folks in their houses. Neither should we, in MD, be adding massively to the harm being done by slots-casinos by installing a bunch more of our very own here. This can only plague many more people who won't/can't travel far afield to gamble, but would travel to a nearby venue.

You slots advocates can't seem to grasp that this money isn't new wealth created by talent and hard work. It is money 'essentially stolen' from unwary and naive folks, and many folks who have been intentionally addicted and ruined by the ingeniously designed slot machines. That amounts to fraudulent business activity in my book. It's the direct descendent of the old-time, crooked, gambling man. Run by our state government, no less!

That money which is lost in casinos will never be spent for normal human needs, in normal businesses, so those businesses are weakened while the gambling industry is enriched.
If our only 'morality' is ill-gotten money, we are going down the drain as a people.

Thanks for the stimulation. Your analysis isn't too impressive either.


I'm no big time slots advocate, just a common sense individual who has thoroughly weighed the relative merits of both sides of the argument. I don't love slots, but I don't love taxes either. We need to fund our schools as well as vital state programs like long term care facilities for the elderly. How do you propose we care for those very elderly MD citizens (whose gambling habits you claim to be so concerned about) you reference without raising state revenues either through slots or raising taxes? Your talk of "fraudulent business activity" is yet another hyberbolic charge that only weakens any attempt at an argument you put out there. Do you really believe that allowing people to choose to drive to a racetrack to play the slots is akin to "fraudent business activity". I've got news for you, entertainment is a "normal human need" as you do deftly (again) put it, so please save us the moralizing in a state that already takes in far more dollars than is currently proposed via the lottery (available at every corner store instead of limited to five locations, several of which already allow gaming on the premises)...not to mention internet gambling, and how accessible that is to anyone with a dial up connection.

Fair minded individuals can look at this issue and understand that Governor O'Malley and the many police and school organizations that are strongly in favor of the measure are not less morally inclined than you, just more realistic about what NEEDS to be done given the prevailing realities of our time. So, Dave, save us the sermons, please.

I was at an anti-slots rally last night and the new report was mentioned as being an "independent study." Now that may well be, but to me it is interesting to note that as quoted from the 93.0 WFMD website: "The report was prepared by UMBC's Maryland Institute for Policy Analysis and Research at the request of In the forward, the report's authors say they take no position on the slots issue, and conducted an impartial and objective study on the benefits and the costs of slot machine gambling. They say had no editorial or other role in the conclusions of this study." Why don't the anti-slots folks say who funded the report? And furthermore, no mention of the fact that the Baltimore Sun has endorsed slots in Maryland. There were plenty hand outs pertaining to the Washington Post non-support of slots. I call that selective information and half truths.
Please research and investigate this issue independently before casting your vote.

Dear Mrose,

While I previously bought into the notion that slots might be an easy way to bring revenue into the State of Maryland, I have since changed my mind. Why? Four years ago I went to a forum where experts in the gambling field testified to the negative impacts of this industry. The speakers were: Dr. Valerie Lorenz - a psychologist who specializes in compulsive addictions; Aaron Meisner - a financial analyst by trade and after researching the effects of slots, organized Stop Slots Maryland; Michael Osborne - Ex. Director of Harbour Pointe a treatment center for gambling addicts. He once was addicted to gambling but now helps others get treatment for their addiction. These speakers systematically revealed the truth about slots and I left the forum no longer a slots supporter but adamantly against. Slots only benefit the casino operators and do much harm to families, communities, and local businesses. It sounds like a good argument that the money will go to education but this is just one of many lies. Any revenue realized by the State will only be replacing what we already have to pay with no promise of additional revenue. Remember the lottery? Same game. Never need another tax and it's for the children. Don't be a duped! By the way, another forum was organized and we had most of the same speakers but also added John Bowers, Chairman of the Maryland Horse Park Inc. and the Maryland Thoroughbred Racing Foundation. He also testified to the negative impacts of slots. I have a dvd of the forum if you or anyone else is interested.


I can only reiterate the above, gambling addicts already have tons of alternatives that are far more accessible than slots in five MD locations (internet, lottery at the corner market, slots in surrounding states, even the stock market given the current volatility!). To believe that you or anyone else can save an individual who is already predisposed to becoming a gambling addict is both naive and somewhat presumptuous (maybe even a bit condescending). In fact, included in the slots referendum is a percentage that will go to helping problem gamblers. Thus not only will this not add to the problem, it will actually help those who are already struggling with the addiction to get free help. To claim otherwise is to once again bury your head in the moralistic sand.

And of course you can find a few "experts" to support whatever position you might deign to take. However the vast majority of truly objective experts agree that slots will empirically help close the budget deficit and will not lead to elevated social ills...whilke also providing money to combat existing problems (i.e. gambling addiction) that already prevail in MD.

Sorry to say, that you are the one either who is being "duped" or perpetrating the duping.

Just a question then given your position on the issue, are you in favor then of increased state taxes or cutting state services, nursing home care facilities, teacher salaries etc...? I'd be interested to know that given we'd have to probably do a combination of both if slots don't pass. What is your solution to our severe budget deficits going forward once you try to shoot down the slots referendum?

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Annie Linskey covers state politics and government for The Baltimore Sun. Previously, as a City Hall reporter, she wrote about the corruption trial of Mayor Sheila Dixon and kept a close eye on city spending. Originally from Connecticut, Annie has also lived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where she reported on war crimes tribunals and landmines. She lives in Canton.

John Fritze has covered politics and government at the local, state and federal levels for more than a decade and is now The Baltimore Sun’s Washington correspondent. He previously wrote about Congress for USA TODAY, where he led coverage of the health care overhaul debate and the 2010 election. A native of Albany, N.Y., he currently lives in Montgomery County.

Julie Scharper covers City Hall and Baltimore politics. A native of Baltimore County, she graduated from The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and spent two years teaching in Honduras before joining The Baltimore Sun. She has followed the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pa., in the year after a schoolhouse massacre, reported on courts and crime in Anne Arundel County, and chronicled the unique personalities and places of Baltimore City and its surrounding counties.
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