Tuesday, August 21, 2012

GUEST POST: Del. Eric Luedtke Defends Veterans Hall Gaming Law // MoCo Lawmaker Responds to PG Del. Doyle Niemann

Delegate Eric Luedtke
BACKGROUND: Yesterday, Maryland Juice published a guest post from Delegate Doyle Niemann. The Prince George's County Democratic lawmaker sought to rebut claims about Maryland's new gambling law that appeared on Maryland Juice. In particular, his piece challenged suggestions made by Del. Eric Luedtke and Fred Nordham, a member of the Prince George's Veterans Commission, that an expansion of gaming machines at veterans halls would have a limited impact on the State.

Delegate Luedtke, a Montgomery County Democrat, now provides Maryland Juice with a response to Doyle Niemann's guest post. Luedtke further explains the rationale for parts of the gambling law below. You can read the provisions of the new gaming law online.
Sensible Gaming Policy in Maryland

by Delegate Eric Luedtke

I think it’s worth responding to Del. Niemann’s point, but in the broader context of where the legislature is driving gaming policy in Maryland.
For the last decade, gaming policy in the state has seemingly been driven by two caricatures. On the one side, the gaming boosters who blithely ignore the social consequences of gaming while making pie in the sky promises about state revenues from gaming. On the other, gaming opponents who vastly overstate the social consequences of gaming while ignoring any potential benefit to the state from gaming revenues. The reality, I think, is that most Marylanders are somewhere in the middle, recognizing both the importance of addressing the social challenges related to gaming while hoping that revenues and economic growth related to the industry will help staunch the cuts to services and help turn around the slow job growth we’ve seen over the past few years.

What we need in Maryland is a sensible, moderate, and professional approach to gaming policy, one which rests on three important goals:
  1. Maximizing revenue to the state, economic development, and job growth
  2. Minimizing and addressing the negative social consequences of gaming, including in particular gaming addiction and prevention of gaming-related crime
  3. A professional and responsive regulatory agency with appropriate legislative oversight to ensure that the first two goals are met
Much of the attention on the gaming bill passed during the special session has of course focused on the proposals to legalize table games and a sixth casino site. But to my mind, the most important component of the bill was the reconstitution of the Lottery Commission as a Lottery and Gaming Control Commission, with newly appointed representation for the people of the state and a staff focused squarely on the state’s interests in the gaming program. This was coupled with the establishment of a new joint legislative oversight committee that will serve to constantly monitor the gaming program.

This question about the veterans’halls is one example of why these portions of the bill we passed last week are so important. Leave aside for a second the legalistic minutiae of how the law describes different machines. Del. Niemann suggested on the House floor, and again on Maryland Juice, that the statutory language that was included in the bill does not do enough to limit these tiny grants of machine licenses to a small number of members-only veterans’ halls. The implication is that there would be an unmitigated expansion of gaming run by falsely registered nonprofit veterans’ organizations leading to ‘neighborhood slots parlors’. Del. Niemann’s scenario assumes that the Internal Revenue Service will fail to prevent fraudulent veterans’ organizations from being registered, the Lottery and Gaming Control Commission will fail to appropriately promulgate or enforce regulations concerning the provision, the Joint Committee on Gaming Oversight will fail to notice such a massive expansion of gaming, and the General Assembly itself will fail to change any statutes which may or may not need changing. To say this Rube Goldberg series of events is unlikely is putting it mildly.

In contrast to that doomsday scenario, the likely course will be much different. The Lottery and Gaming Control Commission will promulgate strong regulations, the Gaming Oversight Committee will take a close look as the new components of the gaming program are rolled out, and if changes in the statutory language are indeed eventually necessary to clarify the veterans’ provision, the General Assembly will make those changes. Meanwhile, legitimate veterans organizations which choose to do so will be able to put gaming devices in limited access areas and raise money to support their charitable work. This process of policy-making, implementation, oversight, and revision, the components of which were established in the gaming bill we passed, will be among the strongest in the nation.
I’m not a big fan of politicians grandstanding, and lord knows we’ve seen enough of it on the issue of gaming. Too many of the people that speak with the loudest voice on this issue either seem to be interested only in getting their names in the press or are still fighting the battle of five years ago, the question of whether gaming should exist in Maryland at all. Grandstanding aside, we’ve also seen too many panicky and dire predictions about the downfall of the state as legalized gaming becomes a reality. It makes much less interesting copy, but the mundane reality is that gaming is simply one more industry for the state to regulate, even if it’s a significantly more controversial industry than most. Our job now is to make Maryland’s gaming program a national model for responsibility and professionalism. I’m confident we’ve made a start at that.

More on Maryland gambling soon!

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