ANNAPOLIS – Chris Senior was a college student when he triumphed at the race track. Though it was 50-some years ago, he remembers it vividly. Four bucks on two races netted him $1,000.
“It was like a dream world to me. Once I won it, all I thought about was getting (back) to the race track.” Senior, 78, of Baltimore, said.
The dream was smoke. He became a compulsive gambler, spending college studying race forms and turning down later job promotions that might cut into his track time.
Senior doesn’t bet anymore and he sees nothing but nightmares in new Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s proposal to add slot machines to many Maryland race tracks to help close the state’s $1.7 billion budget gap.
On Friday, Ehrlich included $395 million from slot machine licensing fees in his budget, even though slots don’t yet have legislative approval.
Gaming opponents point to a high social cost to the revenue gambling brings: addiction, bankruptcies, divorces, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect. Some research also shows gambling disproportionately burdens the poor.
“It’s not going to be good for the public,” said Senior, who now works with the Baltimore chapter of Gambler’s Anonymous.
Maryland’s Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. agrees. He predicted a gloomy future for the state if slot machines were legalized.
“The state will get money, but there’s no free lunch. There’s a downside to it. Gambling causes problems,” Curran said. If slots are approved, he said, the state should devote some of the revenue to additional police protection and social services needed to reduce the social costs of gambling.
Curran’s outlook on the expansion of gambling is not new. In 1995, he submitted a report to a joint executive and legislative task force on the impact casino gaming would have on Maryland crime.
Casino gaming would bring “more violent crime . . . more juvenile crime, more drug and alcohol-related crime, more domestic violence and child abuse, and more organized crime. Casinos would bring us exactly what we do not need – a lot more of all kinds of crime,” the report said. While casino gambling differs from Ehrlich’s plan to install a limited number of slot machines at race tracks, Curran said the impact will be similar. Much of the money players lose at casinos are from slot machines, he said. Gambling also hits hardest those who can least afford it, studies have shown. According to a 1996 Washington Post report, Baltimore, the state’s poorest county, had the highest per capita sales of lottery tickets in the five largest counties. Rich Montgomery County, meanwhile, had the lowest per capita sales, the Post found. Newspapers from other states, including the Chicago Tribune and the Dallas Morning News got similar results in their studies of the gaming industry’s impact.
But academic reports on the subject are lacking.
“There’s very little research on the social and economic impact of gambling,” said Christine Reilly, executive director for the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders at Harvard Medical School.
“The field is very young. We are where alcoholism research was about 30 years ago,” Reilly said.
For former St. Mary’s County Democratic Sen. J. Frank Raley Jr., it was real-life experience and not studies and reports that educated him to the ways of the gambling world.
Raley served in the Senate in the mid-1960s – a time when his Southern Maryland hometown was overrun with slot machines in its bars and restaurants. There was growing momentum, led by former Gov. Millard Tawes, to abolish slot machines in the state.
Raley blamed slot machines for lowering incomes, increasing unemployment and boosting welfare rates in Southern Maryland then.
“There was no question that it retarded our economic progress here,” Raley said.
Preparing for the potential impact does not appear to be of huge importance for the state right now. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has made no preliminary plans in anticipation of the slots and their possible effects on residents, said Karen Black, a department spokeswoman.
Several years ago, the department operated a hotline for compulsive gamblers, but it was discontinued because very few people used the service, said spokesman John Hammond.
Maryland Lottery officials also have made no plans, although they have looked at models for slots in other states including West Virginia and Delaware.
“It’s too early for us to know the details. We have to see what form the legislation takes,” said lottery spokesman Jimmy White.
Joanna Franklin is not waiting to make plans. The executive director for the Maryland Council on Compulsive Gambling noted that problems associated with gambling, including compulsive gambling and drug and alcohol abuse are already here.
Adding slots to the array of gambling opportunities in nearby Delaware, on the Internet, the lottery and at the state’s tracks may increase the need for services. “If the public decides to bring it in . . . then the obvious thing to do is to help the people by providing more services,” she said. Delegate Howard P. Rawlings, D-Baltimore, a slot supporter, provided for an allocation of funds for various services in his slots proposal, including money for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to help compulsive gamblers. Senior, with Gambler’s Anonymous, provides the kind of help that is and will be needed: “I always thought any other kind of gambling was dumb. (But then) I realized they are all the same thing.”