Maryland Gambles With Fascism

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As a resident of Maryland I’ve been inundated the past couple weeks with snail mail spam urging me to vote next week for Question 2, a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that, according to the language on the ballot, would “authoriz[e] video lottery terminals (slot machines) to fund education.”

Here we go again: whoring out the kids so the state can rake in more money.

To wit, the amendment ostensibly “Authorizes the State to issue up to five video lottery licenses for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education of children in public schools, prekindergarten through grade 12, public school construction and improvements, and construction of capital projects at community colleges and higher education institutions.”

Given that I generally lead anything but a charmed life, I personally don’t make a habit of gambling. However, this doesn’t mean I have a right to prevent anyone else from entering into voluntary contract with others around a gaming table. And if I don’t have this right, neither does the state.

If Maryland wants to profit from gambling — notwithstanding the existing government-operated state lottery — it could simply lift its gambling ban and collect tax revenue from anyone looking to get into this business. Instead, however, the state seeks to establish a quasi-fascist monopoly over this proposed new gambling industry, co-opting a select few private corporations and shutting out anyone else interested in making a few extra bucks off slot machines.

Not a bad gig for those lining up at the trough to take advantage of their political clout, eh?

Apparently, Maryland will allow no more than 15,000 video lottery terminals throughout the state. However, considering the state’s only issuing up to five licenses, this means that each location could have, on average, 3,000 gaming machines. In other words, the state’s getting into the casino industry at the expense of common citizens who are prohibited from doing so.

It’s more than a little ironic that Question 2 is being raised as a constitutional amendment when Maryland’s constitution supposedly guarantees equality under the law. But there’s nothing about equality that justifies the use of force to compel taxpayers to subsidize initiatives with which they disagree. Whether one is morally opposed to gambling itself or morally opposed to state-sanctioned coercion, Maryland has no moral right to victimize citizens by forcing them to foot the bills for activities they oppose.

But back to the education angle. The state’s pitch is to claim that it will be able to keep taxes low if only we credulous folk sign off on this scam. Pardon? One would think taxes would actually have to be low in the first place in order to “keep” them that way. However, one of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s first actions upon taking office last year was to usher in $1.3 billion worth of tax hikes.

“It was hard to ask people to do more,” the smug thief alleged, “but it would have been irresponsible to not ask the people of our state to choose to make progress.”

Ask people? It’s hard to imagine a more audacious, condescending statement. I’ve never once been “asked” to “do more” for my state. I have, however, been repeatedly forced to surrender my own hard-earned money at the point of a gun.

If Maryland gets the go-ahead to establish a gambling cartel, whether or not the state will spend most of its prospective slots revenue on new schools and education programs remains to be seen, but it’s entirely irrelevant in any case. Is there any doubt at all that the state will continue to tax income, property, and consumer products as it simultaneously shovels into its coffers millions — billions? — in gambling-related revenues? If anything, the more money the state gobbles up the more it will spend on new government programs, which will demand continuous funding and only lead to more oppressive regulations as the state continues to grow and expand its reach over the rest of us.

The state of Maryland should not be in the business of gambling, or even education for that matter. Yet this debate has been framed from the outset as a tug of war between those who want to see gambling brought into the state in even greater scope (currently slot machines are allowed at select horse tracks) and those who don’t — with state oversight and regulation as the common denominator regardless.

Those who favor slots or other gaming have no right to use state violence to impose their will upon others, any more than those who happen to oppose gambling for personal or religious reasons have the right to use the state to prevent it.

Gambling, like any other commercial good or service, should be privately available to any consumer interested in contracting peacefully and consensually with any producer. The state simply has no business initiating violence against anyone to either ban or endorse it.

Sadly, however, if I were a betting man I wouldn’t put my money on the state of Maryland to uphold its moniker as the "Free State."

Trevor Bothwell [send him mail] maintains the web log, Who’s Your Nanny?, and he is also a contributing author to the forthcoming Ron Paul biography, Ron Paul: A Life.

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