For Maryland voters, the choices on Nov. 6 won’t be limited to picking a favorite candidate for president or choosing the more recognizable name as the representative for Congress. With a slew of weighty referendum questions on the ballot, and an avalanche of propaganda alternately urging yes or no on those questions, this year’s electorate must be armed with information to survive the polls.

Statewide, seven ballot questions require answers come Election Day—and several more in some local jurisdictions—ranging from whether undocumented aliens should be eligible for in-state college tuition rates, to whether same-sex marriages should be legalized, to whether government officials who are convicted of crimes should be suspended and dismissed.

“This is the largest number of questions I’ve seen on the ballot in my years in political office,” said state Sen. Nathaniel McFadden (D-Baltimore). “And they are extremely important as they will impact the future of the and the state of Maryland.”

Some of the most intense debate has centered on question 7—an expansion of the Maryland’s gambling industry. Rammed through by lawmakers in a special summer session of the General Assembly, the legislation has spawned a multi-million dollar advertising war that lobs facts and counter-facts, statistics and counter-statistics and moral, social, economic and political considerations at voters, leaving them in tailspin.

Professor James Karmel, a gambling analyst who teaches history at Harford Community College, and state Sen. Lisa Gladden, D-Baltimore, offered some fog-clearing insight into the legislation.

Simply put, “Question 7 expands Maryland’s casino gambling,” Karmel explained.

“Currently in Maryland casinos all you can do is play slot machines and go eat and drink at the restaurant and bar. But, customers can play all the games they’d be able to play in casinos all across the country.”

Gladden, who voted in support of that expansion, explained that the legislation would amend the state’s constitution to add an additional gaming provision.

“When we passed the current gaming law in 2008, it was very specific about the location and type of gaming that would be allowed. We limited it to video lottery terminals and five sites in the state,” the lawmaker said. “Question 7 changes that definition to include table games—like poker and blackjack—and adds another site, National Harbor in Prince George’s County.”

With the mid-Atlantic already crowded with gambling destinations, Maryland had to offer incentives to potential investors. Among those carrots was a tax cut to casino owners.

“In order for us to open up gaming facilities we have to compete with the states surrounding us—Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, even New Jersey—and the tax structure was too high to compare with what they were doing,” Gladden said. “We’re trying to make our gaming picture more competitive.”

At the same time, the Baltimore Democrat said, the legislation tried to ensure that proposed venues, such as the one in Baltimore—which has not been launched—was not compromised by undue competition from the newly proposed site at National Harbor. The bill stipulates that the Prince George’s site cannot begin operation before July 1, 2016 or 30 months after the Baltimore site is opened.

Like several states across the country, Maryland turned to expanded gambling as a panacea for its budget woes. Specifically, if Question 7 is passed, 20 percent of all proceeds from table games would be funnelled into the state’s Education Trust Fund.

“Those dollars are a considerable part of our budget considerations,” said McFadden, who is the vice-chair of the Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee and who served on the governor’s special committee to consider the gaming issue. “In an ideal world we wouldn’t have to depend on gambling to deal with our budget, but we don’t live in an ideal world.”

The funding for education, perhaps more than anything else, has piqued the interest of voters in Baltimore City, said Troy Staton of New Beginnings Barbershop, which is located on Hollins Street in downtown Baltimore.

“A lot of people from the inner-city who have children in public schools understand about 7,” he told the AFRO.

McFadden, the Baltimore Democrat, said that understanding needs to be more broadly absorbed by the electorate if voters are to make informed decisions on Election Day.

“We as elected officials and community leaders have to do a real vigorous job of making our constituency aware of what the issues are and what they mean,” he said. Public information meetings have been planned, McFadden added, but voters also have to take the initiative.

“The wherewithal is there—even if you can’t get out to a meeting, you can go online.”


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO