printed 10/16/2020

Sports betting. The argument for allowing it in Maryland is something like the Sonic fast food commercial that says, “Sonic’s got it, others don’t,” except it’s the other way around: “Delaware has it, Maryland doesn’t.”

If that’s the best rationale proponents of sports betting can offer for approving this ballot question in the Nov. 3 election, there’s something wrong with the plan. Forget also the pledge by advocates that profits from sports betting would be used to support education.

Considering that every single gambling initiative in Maryland, going back to the state lottery in the 1970s, was at some point promoted as a source of funding for education, this state’s schools should have money coming out of the windows of cash warehouses, and still have enough to pursue a new-school-of-the-month program.

But no. It never quite worked out that way, despite the good intentions of legislators and administrations that saw gambling as a relatively painless way — taxpayer-wise — to pay for something vital to this state’s well-being.

As for the argument that Maryland is losing money to gambling-happy Delaware, of course it does. But it probably loses a great deal more in retail sales tax, as shoppers from counties bordering that state know sales tax is one thing that Delaware doesn’t have. And yet, no one is saying, we must help Maryland’s retail shops, which are losing business to their neighboring competitors.

Our biggest objections to gambling has always been that the people who can afford it the least seem drawn to the fantasy of winning big. Beyond that, how people distribute their disposable income is entirely up to them, as long as it doesn’t affect the welfare of others. Neither do we see any particular harm in legalizing sports betting, since people who enjoy it will find a way, here or elsewhere.

That’s the better argument for legalizing this form of gambling. If people are doing it anyway, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to do it here. Just don’t present the proposal in altruistic wrapping paper, and except the public to embrace it like it’s the answer to our problems.

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