There are so many items on ballots across the country, it’s enough to make my head spin. Aside from what I think is a momentous choice of President (as in, this could be a really screwed up moment if John McCain gets elected), there are ballot initiatives in several states banning equal marriage. Sara the Suburban Lesbian Housewife has traveled from Massachusetts to California to help fight for justice there. Here in Maryland, the big social issue on the ballot is slots.
“Social issue” I you say? Yes. Proponents of bringing slot machines to Maryland will tell you it’s a guaranteed money maker. It’s the golden egg that will fund schools forever. We’ll never have to raise taxes again!
Um, no, actually. As the Maryland League of Women Voters says:
Gambling as a revenue source fails to meet several of the key principles which include:
Compatibility with state’s social and environmental policies.
First, on the issue of Equity and Fairness. Research has shown that the people who spend the most money on slots are the people with the lowest incomes. The slots machines proposed in Maryland will be video slots, complete with “Oh you just missed it!” kinds of messages, designed to encourage players to keep playing. And where will these slots go? Well, they’re not going into one of the the richest counties in the United States, Montgomery County. Instead, they’re slated for Anne Arundel, Cecil, Worcester, and Allegany Counties, and Baltimore City. These are some of the poorest areas in the state. If the argument is that we will be bringing in gamblers from other states, why not put one in Montgomery County and draw in folks from just over the river in D.C. and Virginia?
On the second point, I cannot say it more eloquently than the League of Women Voters does in their statement of opposition:
Promoting an activity that may lead to financial ruin, the destruction of families and addictive behavior is in conflict with other programs that promote financial well-being, strong families and healthy lifestyles.
And the final point of natural growth, gambling — unlike taxes — is not a guaranteed source of revenue for the state. As the population rises and infrastructure needs increase, there is no way of knowing if revenue from slots will increase proportionately.
And finally, I wholeheartedly agree with the LWV that this entire ballot initiative has been misleading to the public. Indeed, the actual wording on the ballot is: “Authorizes the state to issue up to five video lottery licenses for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education.” I’ve seen signs posted around the state proclaim “Vote yes on Question 2: Money for schools, no taxes!” However, only a tiny portion of the revenue raised from slots will go toward schools. Again from the LWV:
By our calculation, six cents of every dollar put into a slot machine in this state will be spent on public education. If you tell voters that six cents of every dollar that goes into a slot machine will support public education – that’s a fair wording. Not complete, but certainly more accurate than the present wording.
The bottom line here is that Question 2 on the ballot in Maryland is misleading. It promises something that it will not deliver. I am not against gambling — I quite enjoy the occasional poker game. But to state that this is going to be a major funding source for education is dishonest.
A long time ago when I was a union rep at my school for the local teacher’s association, another veteran teacher made a wonderful point. She said, “Let’s just cut out the middle man. Let’s put slots in the lobbies of all the schools and have the money go directly to each school.”
Do you really want our society to fund the education of our children through gambling? That would be a more honest way to do it.