Friday, September 17, 2021

Close call on Question 2 in Md.


Likely voters in Maryland, where a ballot referendum known as Question 2 asks voters to legalize certain forms of sports betting in the state, are split over support for the measure, according to a Goucher College poll from February.

DraftKings—the “prime rib of American sportsbook for hungry, hungry American sports dogs” that is already “growing relentlessly,” according to its website—has invested $250,000 in an initial ad campaign in support of the ballot question, and no organized committees or groups have registered an opinion yet in opposition. (DraftKings and FanDuel have contributed more than $2 million as of early October, the Baltimore Sun reports.)

Question 2 reads as follows, after an explanation about why the ballot question is necessary: Do you approve the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland to authorize sports and events betting for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education?

Commercials paid for with the money from DraftKings say schools will get much-needed support if the measure passes, based mainly on a tax the government would collect from licensed providers of sports betting.

The state has a bad track record when it comes to ballot questions that promise to earmark money raised by gambling operations for education, but the situation itself has largely been corrected.

In 2008, voters approved a question that opened casinos, which were “primarily” supposed to provide funds for education. All that happened after casinos started sending in their tax receipts was that the government used that money to replace other education funds, which were then directed elsewhere.

A “lockbox” was created by a ballot question in 2018, 10 years later, that stopped the slight of hand and correctly earmarked funds for the public schools.

The hesitation on the part of Maryland voters is understandable, especially since even proponents of Question 2 acknowledge that the details haven’t been worked out yet as to how the money would actually get to the schools—there’s just a statement that “raising revenue for education” would be the move’s “primary purpose.”

If you parse that down, it seems very unclear as to how that would happen or what sorts of activities or spending the money would be used for. Would it be K-12 schools, colleges, private schools? The phrase “raising revenue for education” is too vague to carry much meaning, but as the Washington Post notes, an estimated $20 to $40 million annually would be “earmarked for public K-12 education.”

Educators have heard this song before.

“I resent the way that ‘schools’ are used as a mantra to promote commercial gambling in our state,” writes Marjorie Schulenburg from Laurel, a retired educator. “They said the same thing about casino gambling and ‘money for schools’ in 2008, and now, six casinos later, they’re using the same ploy. Schools haven’t fared as well as many hoped back then, so best to be wary now.”

The editorial board of the Baltimore Sun has also come out against the question, saying that too many details are missing from the question, details they need to know about how the money will be spent.

“It’s not unusual to pass a referendum first and fill in the particulars later,” editors write. The expected $18 million revenue is “not nothing” but “not enough to make a significant dent in education or other Maryland costs and certainly not enough to justify proceeding without a clear plan or a requirement that the money go toward education, if that’s the way lawmakers want to play it.”

And that is how they want to play it, no pun intended. Based on past evidence, Maryland lawmakers who say the revenue will be used for education can find ways, as in 2008, to keep that promise technically while spending no more money on education. That’s already on the books.

However, while a “primary purpose” would not necessarily exclude other purposes and is not a “clear plan,” the wording does show a hint of what lawmakers intend to do now. The Goucher poll back in February was within the margin of error, so Marylanders will know shortly after November 3 if betting on sports will be legal in the state, as it is in all bordering states and DC.

There’s no denying that gambling on sporting events, or on the Oscars or reality TV, is highly entertaining for many people, but the addiction problem starts to happen when people consider gambling to be a source of income.

In addition to the vague wording of the question, this aspect of gambling probably gives voters pause. Gambling may not be a reliable source of revenue, given the addiction aspect. Yet the Supreme Court cleared the way for states to legalize sports betting in 2018, and about half the states already have it in some form.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.


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