ANNAPOLIS – Lawmakers favoring slots as a quick fix for pressing budget woes may find themselves beset by costly social problems in coming years, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran cautioned delegates Thursday.
Curran spoke not only as the state’s chief law enforcement official, but as a former state senator who voted for the state lottery when it was first enacted in the 1970’s, only to watch it quickly grow beyond anything he envisioned.
“I never dreamed that it would expand to what it is today, never knew that it was going to grow to a 24/7 operation,” Curran said, warning, “What you do today is going to impact decisions you make for many, many years.”
Curran’s presentation was just one in a series of information sessions the House Ways and Means Committee held this fall to study the effects of expanded gambling in Maryland.
Last General Assembly session, the committee killed a slots bill Gov. Robert Ehrlich touted as a solution to the state’s fiscal shortfalls. The committee is expected to be a major force in upcoming negotiations on the issue.
Curran, who in 1995 researched the subject in a report titled “The House Never Loses and Maryland Can Not Win,” called upon economist Dr. Earl Grois of the University of Illinois to discuss the social ills accompanying expanded gambling in other states.
Grois said slot machines exacerbate crime and bring prostitution, suicide and bankruptcy – all of which cost states about $219 per adult annually.
He presented newspaper articles detailing the downfalls of pathological gamblers nationwide, including one about a grandmother who embezzled almost $300,000 from her employer to pay for her slot habit.
However, some delegates remained unconvinced.
“We already know that what you’re looking at here is the basic weaknesses that we as human beings have,” said Delegate Jean B. Cryor, R-Montgomery. She said if lawmakers did not make slots available, “People will just find something else to do.”
“I noticed that he shared a lot of anecdotal evidence about what happens to pathological gamblers but very few statistics,” said Delegate Anne Healey, D-Prince George’s, who chaired the meeting.
Healey said she was aware of the problems that expanded gambling and particularly slot machines can bring, but sees few options, given the governor’s refusal to raise taxes.
“It’s not my favorite way to raise money but I’m committed to do whatever it takes to get Thornton funded,” Healey said, referring to the popular school reform plan, “If that means slots, that’s what we’re going to have to work with.”