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Referendum on Slots
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by Bonnie Bick | 2008

November’s elections could bring 15,000 slot machines to five locations in Maryland. The Sierra Club sees slot machine gambling as an environmental issue that could have far ranging impact; therefore, we urge our members and all Marylanders to vote “No” on their ballots.

A referendum that would modify the Maryland State Constitution to legalize 15,000 slot machines at five locations around the state will appear on Maryland ballots this coming November. One of these locations would be on the grounds of a rural state park. The Sierra Club strongly opposes this referendum for several reasons.

Locations

The locations in the Amendment were determined by politics, not planning. Of the five locations, three are in rural areas. Slots facilities would disrupt the rural character of Cecil County as well as Worcester County on the Eastern Shore. Most outrageous, however, is the location of a slots casino within the boundaries of the State Park at Rocky Gap in Allegany County. These locations are not centrally located and have been chosen simply because they lack the population and political clout to oppose the referendum effectively, either in Annapolis or at the ballot box. The other two locations are Laurel and Baltimore City, both aimed at minority markets. Both locations would require extensive road-building, traffic management, and parking construction. The Baltimore location is right on the water in the southern section of the city.

From the perspective of the Sierra Club, these locations represent the worst in public policy. By building major structures intended to attract large volumes of vehicular traffic in far-flung locations, they embody the exact opposite of Maryland’s Smart Growth strategy. As we know, increased road-building puts the state into a vicious construction-congestion cycle that destroys rural landscapes and ecosystems and adds to automotive traffic—our fastest-growing contributor to global warming. In addition, the process of putting an unwanted facility in a sparsely populated area out of political expediency represents the worst kind of political maneuvering.

Construction

Gambling facilities are large structures surrounded by impervious parking surfaces. There are no “green building” requirements specified in the laws governing these casino structures. The primary feature of these facilities are surface parking lots. This is not something that we wish to see at five locations in Maryland.

This style of construction will not only lead to massive increases in rainwater run-off, but will also be disruptive to wildlife habitats in some very sensitive locations from Eastern Shore to Rocky Gap State Park.

State Park Site

The single most outrageous component of the entire plan is the impact on Rocky Gap State Park. The park, which covers 3,000 rural acres, includes Lake Habeeb, which is fed by Rocky Gap Run. The park is densely wooded with species including rhododendron and hemlock. The park also contains cliffs and gorges and is home to Evitts Mountain. The park has an active Nature Center and interpretive program including nature hikes, demonstrations, and children’s programs. This park is a wonderful natural resource for all Marylanders and should not be developed into a casino location under any circumstances.

Gambling Expansion

No state has ever passed a gambling measure that did not subsequently look to an expansion of gambling. We have seen this in neighboring states as well as around the country. Because the national gambling lobby is so well-funded and powerful, there is legitimate concern over where and when additional locations would be initiated.

Social Issues

While not a core mission of the Sierra Club, it should be recognized that slot machines are highly correlated with addiction, bankruptcy, crime, political corruption, child neglect, domestic violence, embezzlement, and other social problems.

Impact on the State Budget

While proponents argue that slot machines would bring badly needed revenues to Annapolis, there are significant reasons to question these assertions. Dollars spent on gambling are redirected, sometimes from lotteries, but most often from other legitimate businesses. This could lead to a large decline in General Fund revenues and a reduction in legitimate business activity within the state. Because slots money is fully earmarked, it cannot be used to offset these unforeseen costs. This has the obvious potential of leading to further cuts in environmental programs as social costs related to gambling take a larger percentage of the available General Fund spending.

For these reasons, the Sierra Club sees slot machine gambling as an environmental issue that could have far ranging impact. We urge our members, and all Maryland voters, to vote “No” on the gambling referendum question in November.   

 

 

 

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