Opposition to SB 243, SB 441, HB 331: Video Lottery - Gaming - Table Games

By Louis Brown, JD, Associate Director for Social Concerns

Senate Budget & Taxation Committee (Mar 16) and House Ways & Means Committee (Mar 15, 2011)

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public policy interests of the three Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, which include the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington. We offer this testimony in opposition to both Senate Bill 243 and Senate Bill 441. Senate Bill 243 would amend the Maryland Constitution to allow a holder of a video lottery operation license to offer table games, including poker, blackjack, craps, and roulette to the public. Senate Bill 441 would amend the Maryland Constitution to allow for the General Assembly to authorize additional forms or expansion of the operation of video lottery terminals or other commercial gaming upon the approval of three-fifths of the Senate and three-fifths of the House of Delegates and would remove the current requirement that such a constitutional amendment be approved by a majority of voters in a referendum. Both bills would require approval of a majority of the voters of Maryland in the 2012 general election. The Conference opposes both bills because of concern for the impact that this potentially significant gambling expansion could have on families and communities who are vulnerable.

While the Church does not hold that gambling is intrinsically evil or immoral, it becomes morally problematic when it interferes with an individual’s other duties or responsibilities. If properly controlled, gambling (i.e. community raffle, bingo event, lottery tickets, racetrack betting, or a casino game) can provide legitimate recreation for those who participate responsibly. However, individuals, especially family members who are caretakers for other family members and especially mothers and fathers with serious financial responsibilities for their children’s wellbeing, have a need for moderation to avoid addictions and unhealthy behaviors surrounding gambling.

Empirically, in 2003, 2004, and 2005, the Conference has opposed legislation that permitted certain horse racetracks to provide video lottery terminals for public use as well as legislation to regulate and fund those activities due to the Conference’s concern that such expansions could eventually result in full expansion towards casino gambling in this State. The Conference’s concern is not so much for the casual gambler but more so for those with lower incomes who may become addicted to gambling and thus more heavily in debt and more likely to bring financial ruin to themselves and their families. The Conference opposes SB 243 and SB 441 because of the risks of increased financial hardship and societal ills created by the bills’ expansion of gambling in Maryland. Thank you for your consideration of our testimony.