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Maryland Slots: The Trouble With Slots
Comments () | Published October 1, 2008

Racing has been on the decline in Maryland. Racetrack owners will tell you it’s because they don’t have slot machines while Wilmington, Charles Town, and Philadelphia do. Some of the revenue from slots will prop up the sport of horseracing.

But horseracing deserves to be in decline. The industry has for decades tolerated illegal drugs, cruelty to horses, fixed races, crooked jockeys, and low-life trainers. Horseracing is the ultimate insider’s game. Bettors study the records of horses as if they mean something, but the real game is played by the trainers and the owners, who hold back horses, arrange betting coups, and sell injured horses in claiming races as if they had a chance to win. This is the “sport” that slots are supposed to help revive? Some of the slots bonanza will go to former Maryland Jockey Club president Joe De Francis, under whose leadership Maryland horseracing declined.

Slots are not likely to change Pimlico much. It is already in a depressed area. Up the road on Park Heights Boulevard is a long row of synagogues, but the Orthodox Jews you see walking to Shabbat services are not likely to head over to the track to play Wheel of Fortune.

The most successful slots operation is likely to be at Ocean Downs in Worcester County. At the end of a day at the beach, some Ocean City visitors might look for something exciting to do. Some now take the ferry up to New Jersey and play at Atlantic City. Slots at Ocean Downs will provide a closer alternative, though the machines will be older and less glitzy than those across the water.

Some claim that slots will destroy the family atmosphere of the beach. But there are already slots within easy driving distance of Ocean City. Delaware legalized them several years ago—they’re at Delaware Park racetrack in Wilmington as well as at Dover Downs and at Harrington Raceway and Midway Slots, both less than an hour from Ocean City.

The most picturesque setting that stands to be affected is Rocky Gap State Park near Cumberland. It isn’t clear what the market would be for gambling there. West Virginia already has casinos and last year voted to approve table games. You can play table games at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort in Chester, and it’s only a matter of time before nearby Charles Town offers them, too.

With no nearby population center to draw from—Rocky Gap is about two hours from Washington—and with gaming already established around it, slot machines don’t make much sense in Cumberland.

Even if they did, slot machines are not an equitable way to generate revenue for the state. They are the least interesting and most futile form of gambling.

Just because other states have decided to rip off their citizens with slots is no reason for Maryland to do so. Virginia and Maryland can do better than that. If Maryland wants to legalize gambling, legalize all the games, not just the one that most directly targets and takes advantage of the poor.

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This article first appeared in the October 2008 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles like it, click here.   


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Posted at 12:00 AM/ET, 10/01/2008 RSS | Print | Permalink | Articles