The New Slots Polls
Posted by Pr. Lee Hudson, director, Lutheran Office on Public Policy/MD
Why are opponents annoyed, but not discouraged by the Post and Sun surveys that seem to show strong support for slots among Marylanders? Mostly because the poll results didn’t tell us anything new.
Two Governors have spent five years using “crisis,” “slots,” and “free money” in the same sentences. It’s hardly surprising that people have trouble with the facts. It’s also a testament to the power campaign cash has to shape public discourse.
Opponents are annoyed that their corresponding lack of money means proponents get free press that also is fact- and debate free. The most annoying thing about the polls isn’t that the results were inconvenient. It’s that confusion is a preferred policy because it works.
Had the polls asked whether Marylanders support slots if they aren’t an alternative to revenues (which is the case) the results would have been different. There is no ground swell for slots except when the State executive skillfully proposes them as revenue.
When the polls actually ask, as the recent ones did, whether support for slots means willingness to accept them into the local community, the answer remains “no.” That question has been the impediment to slots so far. There’s support for slots until the locations are named. Support then turns to controversy. The current Governor has maneuvered around this issue by leaving the site question for another time and another process.
What the polls showed is that Marylanders prefer slots to taxes. We didn’t need a poll to tell us that. That slots aren’t a substitute for taxes hasn’t been brought up. The poll results show that Marylanders like slots more than a sales tax increase. But the one certainty is that there will be a sales tax increase of some kind no matter what else is or isn’t done. That’s because the sales tax will actually raise new revenue, and the largest amount of it. Slots won’t raise any.
The reason is that the “free money” claims of proponents can most charitably be said to be fact-challenged. It takes a little economics, but not that much, to see why. Slots won’t increase the size of the Maryland economy. Like other large-scale retail, big-box, mega-stores for instance, slots concentrate economic activity by stripping out smaller and local businesses. Slots opposition for the special session has grown to include the Chambers of Commerce of Anne Arundel County and Ocean City. That’s because they know slots in their jurisdictions will close businesses down. This is why slots won’t bring in additional revenue for the State. It will take spending in the current economy and transfer it from one set of retail outlets to another. The net is zip.
All of this also omits the hosting costs for the public. Slots are expensive to accommodate. The human, social costs, which are associated with the opposition of ethical communities like those of the faiths, are one type. People will be poorer, and there will be more poor people, in concentric circles radiating out from the slots locations. Prostitution, loan-sharking, and drug trafficking will spike in the same pattern. But those are only the social costs. Slots make big infrastructure demands, particularly on transportation and these are truly expensive. Traffic and policing management will increase. When property value losses are accounted to the State, and not just the host communities, the whole State economy is a net loser. This is why slots aren’t a revenue source. They lose, they don’t make, money for the State.
The Post poll revealed something else and it didn’t speak well of Marylanders. The results showed that they prefer slots to taxes, they don’t want them in their own communities, and they don’t understand slots can’t produce new revenue. Presumably someone else then should suffer the property value losses, pay the social costs, and provide slots proceeds. One gambling company has published a market study for Maryland that requires every Marylander over age 24 to leave $550 a year in slots parlors to make the needed profit. Not every Marylander will, of course, so some will need to leave $1100, or $1650, or…well you get the point. The poll shows that there’s a racial difference on attitudes towards this. White people like this deal more than African Americans do. Since poor, black neighborhoods are intended to be the base of any slots policy it isn’t difficult to see why. But it speaks poorly of us that racial discrimination is contemplated as tax policy.
Finally, the Post poll revealed an additional unfortunate and contradictory attitude among respondents. They were very concerned about adequate funding for education, both K-12 and higher ed. Families and women with school-aged children showed strong concern for this issue. Yet education funding, mostly for K-12 but also for higher ed, accounts for practically all of the structural deficit that is the reason for this special session. So, while poll respondents approve of how the revenue would be spent they don’t want to provide it themselves and hope that a way is found to put the burden disproportionately on poorer communities.
That is exactly the attitude, turned to public policy, the ELCA objects to, and it’s the core of our opposition to slots in Maryland.