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Could slots be coming to Virginia? page 2
Marylanders will have little stomach for this taste of Virginia politics Gov. Ehrlich is trying to hammer home.

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RICHARD AMRHINE
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Date published: 3/16/2003

By RICHARD AMRHINE

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Even supporters of slot machines acknowledge that the problems of crime, addiction, and family financial problems could swell negative public sentiment to the point that the machines could be outlawed again within a decade.

And let's make it clear that in other states where the "racino" concept is in place, studies show that slot players head to the track to play the slots, not the ponies. Horse-track operators don't expect slots to rescue the racing industry; they are counting on it to subsidize it. If the racing industry fails to succeed in addressing its own set of challenges, slots will remain the track owners' ace in the hole.

Ehrlich figures that if Marylanders want to waste their money on slot machines, they might as well do it in Maryland rather than West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. If Maryland approves his plan, similar thinking will threaten to spread the cancer to Virginia, which wouldn't want to see its own potential slot-machine dollars escaping to nearby Maryland. The spread of state lotteries followed a similar pattern 30 years ago.

Concerns about piers into the Potomac, which belongs entirely to Maryland, are valid, but pale to the impact of legal, statewide casino gambling in Virginia.

So in the face of stiffening opposition to his slot-machine plan, Ehrlich decided to increase the number of allowed machines from 10,500 to 12,000, slash the up-front licensing fees to be paid by the track operators, and, consequently, reduce the slot revenues dedicated to public-school education.

You can just hear Gilmore yelling, "Go, Bob, go!"

They seem to share a strange political philosophy under which you counter opposition to your plan by making it even less appealing.

Gilmore's strategy to keep his no-car-tax pledge on track was to lop off funding for colleges, parks, state employees--or anything else that Virginia takes pride in. At the end of his term, he handed off his no-tax carrot just in time to leave a new administration on the edge of a cliff.

To put an alternative to slot machines on the table, a group of Maryland lawmakers has proposed an income-tax increase on the state's wealthiest residents that would be curtailed after two years. The top bracket would be increased from 4.75 percent to 6 percent. At worst, a single person making $125,000 a year would have to pay $128 more in state income tax.

That's a small price to pay to avoid the raft of problems, not to mention the ugly reputation, that slot machines will surely bring.

RICHARD AMRHINE is a writer and editor with The Free Lance-Star.


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