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Stephen Martino

Gamble or die

Federal legislation that could prohibit Internet gaming in Maryland and other states could result in more uneducated kids, unsafe streets and veterans and senior citizens languishing in a world without needed government services.

So says Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency Director Stephen L. Martino in an op-ed published over the weekend on the Great Falls Tribune website in Montana.

Martino, in the piece written with Idaho Lottery Director Jeffrey R. Anderson and New Hampshire Lottery Executive Director Charles McIntyre, argues that lottery winnings have done a lot of good for states. Less revenue as a result of a federal prohibition on online gaming would “be a devastating blow.”

“A recent analysis shows that if this ban, which includes major, unintended consequences to long-standing lottery business practices, should pass, states could lose up to $5.5 billion annually,” Martino and the other lottery directors write. “What would that mean in practical terms? It would mean less money for schools and fewer teachers. Fewer police officers on the street. Less care for seniors. Fewer services for veterans. Its inevitable consequence would be some states losing out on much-needed revenue to provide the services their citizens need and have come to expect.”

Of course, Maryland has a vested interest in whether or not the feds ultimately regulate online gaming.

Earlier this year, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, introduced legislation that would make online gaming illegal even in states where it is already legalized — Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware.

In Maryland, a state task force is supposed to make recommendations regarding implementation of eLottery games by Jan. 1.

Currently, the state lottery agency has the authority to create and implement the games. Under the bill, the agency will now have to wait until April 6 in order to give legislators a chance to weigh in on any proposals.

The task force will look at issues related to reversing declines in sales of traditional lottery products such as Pick 3 and Pick 4 tickets, Keno and scratch-off products. A coalition of agents who sell those products say they are concerned that moving to digital products that can be played on any home computer, smartphone or tablet could decrease sales and cut into needed commissions that last year totaled nearly $119.8 million.

Exactly how much lotteries and expanded casino gaming help the state is matter of debate.

State officials, including Gov. Martin J. O’Malley, promised in 2012 that a vote to expand the number of casinos from five to six would mean hundreds of millions in additional revenue for schools.

A review earlier this year by Capital News Service found that casinos, not the state, are the big winners.

The report found that “casino companies have kept more than $334 million of the revenues in fiscal 2014 while the Education Trust Fund has gotten close to $270 million — marking the first time since casinos opened in Maryland that more of the gambling proceeds will go to the casino companies than to the education fund.

Martino and the other lottery officials face stiff opposition at the federal level.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that the federal legislation “tracks the goals of billionaire Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who has financed lobbying campaigns in Washington and in various states to stem the growth of online gaming and roll it back wherever possible.”

The paper also reports that the bill appears to have been written by a lobbyist for Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp. and that the billionaire has contributed nearly $16,000 to Graham’s campaign.

Martino and the other lottery directors argue that the feds should keep their noses out of what has largely been under the control of individual states.

“Efforts by some members of Congress to substitute their judgment for those of the states on Internet gambling and lottery policy should be rejected,” the piece concludes.