Waiting for the Chips to Fall


There’s no such thing as a free lunch, they say, and you don’t need to look further than the city’s Cheswolde neighborhood for proof. There on Taney Road stands the new headquarters of Hatzalah, built with the help of a grant tied to state revenue gleaned from slot machines.

While some, mindful of the Talmudic directive that gamblers may not be counted as witnesses in court proceedings, might scoff at the notion of gambling dollars going to fund a Jewish organization, the truth is that Hatzalah of Baltimore has yet to see a slot-stained nickel.

Ronnie Rosenbluth, president of the Cheswolde Neighborhood Association, tells reporter Heather Norris in this week’s cover story that funds from the $315,000 grant have been held up by the city’s process for disbursing its share of gambling revenue.

“We were told two years ago to have shovel-ready programs, and we were told that as of July 2, 2013, ‘the check will be in the mail,’ and the check wasn’t in the mail,” said Rosenbluth. “After two years, you have a lot of frustration.”

The concept is simple: To offset the harms that can befall communities from the presence of casinos, legislators built into Maryland’s gambling regime a way for slot dollars to flow back into those communities for public works projects. The neighborhoods around Pimlico Race Course, such as Cheswolde, are just as much at risk as those areas around the new Horseshoe Casino, others argued, so they should also get a share of the funds.

But while legalized gaming has been touted by the state as a way to plug budget shortfalls and to help out local communities, not to mention a way for Maryland to compete with New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania, gambling itself is far from a panacea. Just ask Atlantic City.

Could it be that those in the northwest section of the city are on the losing side of the bet?

Without commenting on whether or not the gambling industry is compatible with Jewish ideals–it should be noted that many synagogues host successful day trips to local casinos as a way for congregants to socialize–it is interesting to note that Jews everywhere over the coming week will be eating and in some cases sleeping in ramshackle huts known as sukkahs.

An explanation of this practice during the holiday of Sukkot is that by subjecting yourself to the vagaries of the elements and enduring the primitiveness of a temporary structure, you are demonstrating your complete faith in the Almighty to provide for all of your needs. It is neither chance nor your own prowess that guarantees success, the argument goes, but rather Divine Providence.

Seen through this lens, putting a quarter in a slot machine is far from a mundane act. Do people gamble merely for the entertainment value or is their financial well-being dependent on three sevens improbably appearing on the same line?

It might help to realize that some societal good is coming from placing a few chips on the table, but in Cheswolde at least, the locals are still waiting.

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