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Slot Machine Gambling Expansion to be Voted on in Maryland?

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The Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley, is trying hard to gain support for a referendum that will put the issue of legalized slot machines on the ballot for voters to decide on.

Republican leaders in the Maryland General Assembly, however, say that their party is opposed to a public vote on the issue.

The slots referendum is part of the governors plan to help close a $1.7 billion shortfall in the states deficit.

House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell [R-Calvert] said Republicans in the House and Senate have no interest in putting the issue to a public vote.

Thomas A. Grey of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling said that he would prefer that Maryland lawmakers reject slots outright. Grey stated that he is confident that anti-gambling forces could win if the issue is brought on a statewide ballot.

“It’s at the grass-roots level where we win,” said Grey, “their (gambling interest companies) money is neutralized and it sometimes works against them. In Madison Wis., they spent $1.4 million to our $45,000 and we beat them 63 percent to 37 percent”

“Gambling is a social issue that should be decided by the residents of each state,” said Gordon Price, Casino Gambling Web’s analyst. “It should not be left to the whims of legislators, or special interest groups that base their positions on their moral code, but rather it should be decided by the opinion and desire of the majority.”

According to experts, ballot measures to allow slots machines or casino gambling usually fail citing difficulty to sell voters and generally getting grass-roots organizations to oppose them.

William Eadington, director of the Institute or Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming at the University of Nevada, Reno, said “These are easier to defeat than they are to win.” Adding that it is easy to “demonize gambling in general – you can make very emotional, visceral appeals to voters.”

Putting a vote to the general public may entice outside gambling interests in neighboring states that would be threatened by an expansion of gambling in Maryland, they “might put up money behind the scenes to help keep slots out of Maryland,” said Eadington.

A former speaker of the House of Delegates, Casper R Taylor Jr. predicted that gambling interests in Delaware, West Virginia and Pennsylvania would “spend enormous amounts of money” to influence any election on slots in Maryland, adding that, “Somewhere around $500 million in Maryland money that is going into their states is at risk, if they could maintain the status quo, they’d be tickled pink.”

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