Maryland is no stranger to blatant intrusion by big gambling interests into government integrity. In 1963, the General Assembly voted to phase out slot machines, which had operated for decades in four Southern Maryland counties. The Legislature acted after a grand jury report concluded that slots had created “a sordid mess," and after a gubernatorial campaign that featured allegations that only State action could address corruption between slots owners and local governments. At the urging of newly-elected Governor Millard Tawes, the General Assembly banned all commercial slot machines by 1968.
Passage of the 2004 slots legislation in neighboring Pennsylvania reveals a more contemporary experience with political intrigue and irregularities. The slots bill, authorizing 61,000 machines at 14 locations, was enacted in controversy during a July Fourth holiday midnight legislative session, without any preceding hearing or public notice. In the four years before passage, at least $5.8 million was contributed by gambling interests to political campaigns in that state. News sources report numerous former political staffers, fundraisers and other insiders have become part-owners and consultants to applicants for slot facilities or services. Current and former elected officials have also been linked to slots opportunities, most noteworthy being the indictment of the former mayor of Erie and two on-going FBI investigations of public officials in Philadelphia.
According to Common Cause Maryland, in a report to be released, organized gambling interests have continued to make large campaign contributions to a broad cross-section of State and local officeholders during 2005. Citing firms and individuals identified with the gambling industry, Common Cause calculates that at least $200,000 was spent last year, exceeding the $166,000 contributed in 2004. The latest survey now brings the total political contributions made from 1999 through 2005 by organized gambling to State and local officials to over $1.0 million. Gambling-related businesses also spent nearly $6.0 million between 2003-2005 in lobbying fees and entertainment expenses. These sums were raised by an industry even before the availability of huge profits reaped by slots operators.
This story was published on March 17, 2006.