The next time someone tries to tell you that the needs of the poor would overwhelm society unless government steps in, think of the good works of the Mechanicsville Lions Club, or the Little Flower School in Great Mills. If they tell you that government acts to correct the greedy selfishness of society, think of the Leonardtown Volunteer Fire Department in Southern Maryland.
These charities, and several others, are supported by the voluntary donations from video gambling machines, especially in St. Mary’s County. As of this month, though, the state has shut them down. All this spring, law enforcement officials have been raiding bingo halls and fire stations, ripping out machines that the state has deemed unworthy. (At one point, they were deemed illegal, but a May decision by the Circuit Court overrode that bit of busybody smugness).
Let’s make clear what we are discussing here. Small stores and restaurants set up these machines. Customers use the machines for entertainment, just like pinball machines or PacMan. No one is being robbed, all transactions are voluntary. Some of the revenues go to the stores, and some goes to a variety of charities.
Perfectly innocuous, and with a good cause, to boot. Yet the General Assembly felt threatened, and decided to make the games illegal. (Not the state lottery of course; that gives the politicians money to play with). The anti-gambling forces, the holier-than-thous, who paternalistically insist that they should be in charge of other people’s recreation, squeezed the game machines from one side. And the pro-slot forces, flacking for the racetrack owners, were afraid that these machines might provide competition for the slot machines they hope to see installed at racetracks – they squeezed the game machines from the other side. (Hey, if you want to use slots, you have to do it at the racetracks, where the owners are paying the politicians to ensure they have a monopoly).
And the small businesses in St. Mary’s, and the charities and public services dependent on the revenues? And the simple folk who liked to play the games? Poor bastards. No one was looking out for them. No one stood in their corner. They never stood a chance.