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Maryland Gaming Expansion Ads Target Undecided Voters

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Interested parties on both sides of Maryland's gambling expansion debate have spent large sums on ads trying to sway undecided voters before the November election.
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Interested parties on both sides of Maryland's gambling expansion debate have spent large sums on ads trying to sway undecided voters before the November election.

This is the first part of a series looking at the many ballot questions facing voters in Maryland.

Maryland voters will face a long ballot when they enter the polls next month. In addition to the federal elections, there are several statewide referenda that voters will decide. One includes the expansion of gambling in the state.

When gaming expansion was passed this summer by the General Assembly, many supporters were supremely confident voters would give it the green light in November, just as they had in 2007 when slot machines were approved by both lawmakers and voters. But that's not a good assumption, says Irwin Morris, the chair of the University of Maryland-College Park's Department of Government and Politics.

"You could say the voters have five years worth of evidence related to this issue," he says. "Just because you have a position at Time A, if you have some experience with that issue, you may not have the same position at Time B."

Most polls show voters evenly split, with just a small number undecided, and a record amount of money is being spent to sway those few undecided, such as 20-second montage ads on television.

That this race is seeing so much money spent as opposed to the others is no surprise to Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary's College of Maryland.

"Gaming is the only question involved for a private sector business that stands to make millions and millions of dollars," says Eberly. "The question of the DREAM Act, and marriage equality... these come down to people's basic feelings of fairness and equality. Not really a market for someone to make money or lose money."

Eberly says whom the undecided voters trust more — the larger names in the ads supporting expansion or the working class people in the anti-spots — will likely be the deciding factor.

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