To Maryland voters: Thoughts about Question 7 (gambling expansion)

Maryland’s ballot questions this year include such big ticket items as same-sex marriage, a dream act, and congressional redistricting. But by far the dominant question, measured by the amount of campaigning, is gambling. Specifically, Marylanders have been bombarded with electioneering on the issue of whether a new casino should be added to the few that already exist, and whether certain table games should be permitted at all Maryland casinos.

It isn’t surprising that the gambling question has seemed to dwarf all of the others. This issue is where the money is.

But how should conservatives vote on Question 7? Obviously, there’s a conservative case to be made for supporting the extension of gambling. Gambling is a form of economic activity, and conservatives usually oppose restrictions on economic activity.

Personally, though, I find it extremely distasteful for the government to raise money by luring gambling addicts and lower income individuals into casinos. If it came down to it, I would rather pay higher taxes to support public education (which is where proponents of Question 7 say the gambling revenue will go) than squeeze the money out of Marylanders who cannot resist the attraction of gambling tables. In any case, there appears to be a substantial question as to whether the revenue actually would be used to support Maryland public schools, as proponents of Question 7 claim. So I am voting “no” on Question 7.

As I said, reasonable conservatives will disagree on Question 7. But I’ve had fun teasing liberals about it. The two common arguments they make are (1) that gambling brings in revenue that Maryland needs for its schools and (2) that the state’s gamblers currently are driving to West Virginia and blowing money there that should be kept in in-state.

Both arguments seem inconsistent with liberalism. First, shouldn’t liberals favor obtaining additional revenue by raising taxes on the wealthy, rather than through the comparatively regressive gambit of inducing suckers into making bad bets? Second, doesn’t West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the Union, need gambling revenue more than Maryland does?

But when real money is involved and the issue is close to home, income redistribution usually takes a back seat at best for most liberals.

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