Bet on it
So while we all wait to see if the dithering county council in Anne Arundel County will green light a slots casino for a Hanover shopping mall parking lot, Delaware has upped the ante.
Lawmakers in the nation's smallest state have approved legislation allowing bookies to set up shop as a means to help close a $780 million budget shortfall. The law is being reviewed by Delaware's Supreme Court. If it passes muster, the state's governor wants everything in place for the start of the pro football season.
One of the arguments by those in favor of slot machines in Maryland was that the surrounding states of Delaware and West Virginia were siphoning off sin dollars. Plus, the state wanted to help its racetracks and the racing industry, needed a new pot of money to pay for stuff and was loath to raise taxes.
So belatedly Maryland approved slots and then watched as interest, like the economy, waned. The state today is really no closer to new revenue than Republicans are to winning a majority in Congress.
And now Delaware is on the verge of unrolling the welcome mat for sports betting at Delaware Park, Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway. I don't have to tell you how close those three racetracks are.
Naturally, the NFL and NCAA hope to block sports gambling to protect the (cough, cough) "integrity" of their games in a legal maneuver known as the "retroactive virgin defense."
Remember, this is the same NFL that announced last week that teams were free to negotiate deals with state lotteries for use of logos on instant-game scratch-off tickets. No gambling there, right? And everyone photocopies the NCAA basketball bracket just to keep up with the schedule, right?
Still, it will be interesting to see what happens to Maryland's already shaky slots plan should Delaware become the second state after Nevada to offer legalized sports betting.
The pressure is on. This state has a budget sinkhole of its own. The racetracks and the industry are still in a bad way. And unless Gov. Martin O'Malley wants to look like a hypocrite, he cannot raise fees because last election he criticized his opponent, incumbent Republican Robert Ehrlich, for doing just that.
There is a barrier on the road to perdition: a 1992 federal law banning sports gambling in all but four states--Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana. Although there's a legal challenge to the law in the works, the odds are against it.
It would take an act of Congress, that beacon of virtue, to repeal the sports gambling ban. Unlikely? Perhaps. But Congressman Barney Frank has filed a bill to to legalize, regulate and tax Internet gambling. Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, says he expects to hold hearings on the bill before the August recess.
In its current form, Frank's bill prohibits sports betting except for "fantasy or simulation sports games." But legislation lives to be amended and states and local governments, in their frantic scramble for money, are rationalizing all sorts of behavior, from charging students for locker room towels to raising tolls to drive on pothole-filled roads and ancient bridges.
We're reached a point where there's very little difference between betting on Rachel Alexandra and putting down money on the Denver Broncos.