Worried casino referendum would draw 'no' votes on gay nuptials

ANNAPOLIS - A national gay advocacy group is campaigning against an expansion of gambling in Maryland, fearing that a ballot initiative on the issue would draw voters who may vote against legalizing same-sex marriage.

The National Gay & Lesbian Task Force Action Fund Maryland Political Action Committee has sent mailers to Maryland residents to support votes against the gambling legislation proposed by Gov. Martin O'Malley, who called lawmakers back to Annapolis last week for a special session focused on an expansion of gambling in the state.

If passed by the legislature, the measure would be placed on ballots in November alongside referendums on same-sex marriage and in-state college tuition for some illegal immigrants.

The LGBT task force believes that an "uncluttered ballot is the best ballot, and provides for the best chance for securing marriage equality in Maryland," said spokeswoman Inga Sarda-Sorensen.

The mailer draws a connection between voters who don't like gambling and those who don't like same-sex marriage: "All the 'no' votes on gaming could also be 'no' votes for us," it states.

Political observers say those fears are merited, as Marylanders who might not have turned out to vote against gay marriage could be rallied to vote against gambling.

That kind of voter overlap could have a profound effect in predominantly black Prince George's County, according to Trevor Parry-Giles, professor of political communication at the University of Maryland.

A Gonzales Research & Marketing Strategies poll last fall found African-American voters in Maryland opposed gay marriage nearly 2-to-1, though a more recent Peter D. Hart Research Associates poll found 44 percent of black voters in the state favored same-sex marriage, compared with 45 percent opposed.

"It could be fervent anti-gambling Christians who think gambling is the devil's curse," Parry-Giles said. "They might not be inclined to vote against gay marriage by itself. But they're motivated to go vote against gambling, and then vote against gay marriage while they're there."

Lawmakers agree Prince George's would be the battleground for a vicious political fight over gambling if the measure goes to the ballot.

"If this bill passes, what you're seeing in the Obama-Romney ads are nothing compared to the ads you're going to be seeing in Prince George's," said state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert and Prince George's.

Maryland Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, said the LGBT task force shouldn't be concerned -- voters were already going to turn out in massive numbers for the presidential election and other ballot questions, he said.

"I don't think there's a person out there that, with all those other issues before them, [gambling] is the issue that finally drives them to the polls," Madaleno said.