It didn't take long. Less than two months after Maryland voters approved a ballot measure to expand gambling at Washington National Harbor, casino owners were pushing for state approval allowing them to stay open around the clock.
The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Commission not only caved in to the gaming industry demands last Thursday, commissioners also made it easier for the state's three operating and three authorized casinos to extract more money from their patrons by expanding limits on how they can withdraw from casino ATMs and loosening restrictions on how much they can borrow to continue gambling. Casinos will also be allowed to install one ATM per every 125 slot machines (instead of the current 175) five feet closer to the gaming floor so patrons can get to them even faster.
This is exactly what critics predicted would happen when the General Assembly first approved slot machines back in 2007. Just five years later, Maryland is turning into a full-fledged Las Vegas on the Potomac.
In contrast, last month Toronto's Board of Health voted 9-1 against a proposed gambling complex even though it was expected to increase revenue by $1.3 billion annually within five years. Dr. David McKeown, the city's chief medical officer, said that "the best way to preserve the health of Torontonians is not to expand access to gambling." The Canadians rightly fear the social problems that typically accompany casino gambling, including alcohol and drug addiction, organized crime and prostitution.
That message was reiterated by Joanna Franklin, program director for the University of Maryland's Center on Problem Gambling, who said the lack of a $5,000 lending cap will allow casinos to prey on vulnerable people. A June 2011 survey by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene found that 15.5 percent of all Maryland adults admit they gamble every week, and 3.4 percent are at risk of "problem gambling, which can result in financial ruin, legal problems, loss of career and family, or even suicide," according to the center.
So thanks to the misnamed Lottery and Gaming "Control" Commission, Marylanders with serious gambling problems can now wreck their lives 24/7. The state of Maryland will supposedly implement "controls" to prevent casinos from lending to people who can't afford to gamble. But with the state collecting a hefty cut of the profits, odds are that these half-hearted attempts will not succeed.