Maryland’s top slots supporter, Gov. Martin O’Malley, berated Comptroller Peter Franchot on Wednesday for his vocal opposition to legalized gambling machines, chiding his Democratic foe for “throwing stones in a hypocritical way.”
O’Malley’s remarks came hours before Franchot attended the start of an anti-slots organization.
“The comptroller has had the wonderful luxury of sitting back and doing nothing to help us restore fiscal responsibility while throwing stones in a hypocritical way at the one piece of this, the 25 percent that is slots — a measure that he once himself voted for,” O’Malley said. “But he’s not at all ever troubled by his inherent contradictions, and he never saw two sides of an issue that he couldn’t be simultaneously in favor of.”
Franchot is on the steering committee of Marylanders United to Stop Slots, a nonprofit coalition that kicked off a grassroots campaign Wednesday to defeat a November referendum on legalizing 15,000 slot machines at five locations in Baltimore and Allegany, Anne Arundel, Cecil and Worcester counties.
A former Montgomery County state delegate, Franchot supported a constitutional amendment in 2001 to fund public education through slot machines, with a provision that would prohibit an expansion into casinos.
Wednesday, he called O’Malley’s remarks unfortunate.
“I don’t think there has been a more consistent opponent to slots in the last seven years than myself,” he said.
The governor said slot machines are essential to balancing the state’s budget, potentially generating $800 million in annual tax revenue.
He said the state is losing tax dollars to machines in the neighboring states of Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia.
But slots opponents such as Barbara Knickelbein, president of NO Casino Maryland, called the machines a regressive tax that carries expensive side effects, including organized crime, prostitution and foreclosure. The referendum is scheduled Nov. 4.
“On November 5, we can celebrate and pound the last nail in the coffin of the 800-pound gorilla that’s been knocking on our door since 1993,” Knickelbein said.
Political watchdogs have speculated the referendum could prove an unofficial gubernatorial primary between O’Malley and Franchot. Members of Franchot’s campaign staff attended and videotaped Wednesday’s launch, and the comptroller later released a statement decrying what was called O’Malley’s attack.